Football: Will English Premier League digital service give Singaporean fans cost savings?

A photo taken on Aug 27, 2019, shows a view of a VAR monitor pitchside before the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
A photo taken on Aug 27, 2019, shows a view of a VAR monitor pitchside before the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Newcastle United fan Adly Esmadi Rahman pays $99.90 a month for a Singtel TV plan that includes live English Premier League (EPL) games and other entertainment channels.

The 51-year-old senior technician is hoping to get more cost savings if a Netflix-style channel proposed by the EPL kicks off in 2022.

EPL chief executive Richard Masters reportedly said last weekend that matches could be sold via a direct streaming platform for the 2022 to 2025 seasons in a move that could see lower subscription costs for fans. This would eliminate the middleman and allow the league to provide content straight to viewers, rather than via rights sales to TV broadcasters.

While Singtel, which owns the TV rights here for 2019-2022, declined to provide figures for its deal, the EPL makes £3.1 billion (S$5.55 billion) a year from TV rights, of which £1.4 billion comes from foreign buyers. Last Thursday, the league announced a £2 billion deal with Nordic media company Nent for the rights for Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland from 2022-28 - a 20 per cent increase on the value of the previous deal.

Esmadi, who has been a Magpies fan since the 1970s, believes the EPL's digital service would benefit fans only if prices are lower.

He said: "Maybe the service providers will also try to have their own deals, and maybe they can offer cheaper plans."

Manchester United supporter Ong Hong Zhang, who works in IT, is not certain there will be a big drop in price.

The 26-year-old, who shares the Sports Plus pack ($49.90 a month) on Singtel's Cast app with a friend, said: "My concern is whether it'll make sense because the games don't take place throughout the whole year. Will we have to subscribe for the whole year? I don't know how much cheaper it will be... if matches can be watched on multiple devices, that'll be good."

James Walton, the sports business group leader at Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia, noted there are a number of advantages of the EPL's direct streaming service.

He referred to the National Basketball Association's (NBA) subscription service, which offers annual and monthly plans as well as an option where fans can choose to only watch their favourite team.

He said: "There are examples of sports and leagues doing it and there's a clear financial case of why the Premier League should look to do it, given the huge difference in revenue. The streaming culture and mindset in football fans already exists and when you put that all together, it's very logical.

"It's a question of what moment the league is ready to take that step... it means having to build up broadcasting operations and digital capability."

Football fans here have often complained about the cost of watching live EPL matches, and have also been frustrated over broadcast rights issues related to the Champions League.

In 2018, Singtel and StarHub secured Champions League broadcast deals only after the competition started - the longest negotiations have taken since Singtel secured the rights six hours before the competition's start in 2012. Last September, fans who stayed up to follow the Champions League action on television took to social media on the first day of the tournament to vent their frustrations that only two matches were live.

Walton said EPL's proposed move would only be advantageous to fans if prices were lowered, though he feels having a variety of plans, as the NBA does, would be attractive. He added: "If they had a team pass for the season, where you could watch your team's games for a reduced price, that's something a lot of fans would choose to sign up for."