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Commentary

Dark horse Eleven brings sea change to EPL pricing

Football fans have many reasons to cheer with the new English Premier League (EPL) season, which kicked off last Saturday.

For the first time, EPL matches are being sold in smaller packages at a much lower price. It is a marked departure from previous seasons when consumers had to shell out more money for complete packages that offer all the live matches.

This is thanks to yet another first: Singtel has sub-licensed parts of its exclusive rights to screening EPL matches here to start-up Eleven Sports Network.

This seems to be the right thing to do amid soaring content prices.

By breaking up its traditional $60-a-month buffet EPL package into more digestible portions, more people can tune in to the action.

Singtel, too, benefits as it can immediately claw back a chunk of its initial content investment.

Eleven is like a Netflix that delivers content in a la carte fashion over the Internet, disrupting the old model of selling content via cable TV set-top boxes.

A good analogy would be that of a landlord leasing out space to a tenant to run a business. The landlord is guaranteed monthly rent without having to subject itself to the profit and loss pressure of the tenant.

The tenant in this case is London-based Eleven, an online streaming service provider. It shot from obscurity to the media limelight in a matter of months since it started operations in July last year in London, and early this year in Singapore.

Its meteoric rise to fame is due in part to the novel way it packages popular sports content. In many ways, Eleven is like a Netflix that delivers content in a la carte fashion over the Internet, disrupting the old model of selling content via cable TV set-top boxes.

Interestingly, its mission is to bring the best sporting action to all fans at affordable prices.

Its deal with Singtel, announced in June, allows Eleven to offer three live games and three delayed telecasts - six different matches altogether each week - on its website at elevensports.sg or via the Eleven Sports app, which can be downloaded on Google Play and the Apple App Store. Eleven charges only $19.90 a month for this line-up.

Eleven has also since partnered Mediacorp's Toggle online platform and telcos M1 and StarHub so they, too, could offer the same package to their audience.

Toggle's package is exactly the same as Eleven's - at $19.90 a month - while M1 and StarHub were more creative in their marketing.

M1 threw in a huge subsidy to bundle EPL with its 1Gbps fibre-broadband plan - that itself costs $39 a month - for only $44.90 a month.

StarHub, on the other hand, does not charge for mobile data when customers watch the EPL matches using the StarHub Go app. StarHub sells the EPL matches for $19.90 a month.

For the first time, fans felt they were special, having been courted by multiple service providers, some with freebies and subsidies.

Let's hope that Eleven fulfils its side of the bargain.

Eleven has promised that the live telecasts will be "popular" ones. The schedule for the first six weeks is already out. Its selection is based on - among many things - the timing of the games, the popularity of the clubs and the top contenders for the title championship.

For instance, weekend evening screening slots will be preferred. Clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are likely to be given priority over others, but it aims to feature the dark horses as well.

Only time will tell whether consumers will like Eleven's line-up. But, in many ways, Eleven can be likened to a dark horse in the sports arena, breaking tradition and disrupting the sector like no other business.

It is a good start.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Dark horse Eleven brings sea change to EPL pricing'. Print Edition | Subscribe