Why It Matters

Television rights holders: 1, Sports fans: 0

Uncertainty in sport is part of its beauty. Who will win football's ongoing European Championship? Is Singapore's Joseph Schooling ready to win a historic swimming medal at the Olympics in Brazil?

But television rights and protracted negotiations? Not exactly topics that get the pulse racing but, unfortunately, now part of the landscape for the Singapore sports fan. Last week, The Straits Times reported that neither Mediacorp nor Singtel and StarHub have reached a deal with rights holder Dentsu to show live action of the Aug 5-21 Rio Games apart from the opening and closing ceremonies.

Cost is the cause for the impasse. The 11-hour time difference between Rio de Janeiro and Singapore has made the Games unattractive to local advertisers.

That sports fans are again uncertain if they will have access to content is troubling. Last season, live telecasts of Spanish football's Primera Liga, which began last August, were delayed till December. This followed the deadlock between Fifa and local telcos in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup before a late deal was finally struck. Sport is big money and fans usually end up bearing the financial burden. Football subscription prices in Singapore have risen continually - the 2014 World Cup cost $112, almost 20 per cent more than in 2010 - and consumers must feel as if they are being held to ransom.

The aggressive bidding by the Republic's pay-TV operators, in their scramble for customers, is part of the problem. Industry watchers see Singtel's reported $400 million bid for the English Premier League rights in 2010 as a pivotal moment, which signalled the country's willingness to pay top dollar. The die was cast for subsequent negotiations.

To regain some leverage might require intervention from the Media Development Authority or something drastic. There may be a plethora of alternative means for watching live sports beyond traditional mediums but can Singapore forsake its football fix for a few years to send a message to the rights holders? Because the only certainty is that for now, the Singapore sports fan is on the losing side.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Rights holders: 1 Sports fans: 0'. Print Edition | Subscribe