SINGAPORE - The Champions League group stage kicks off on Tuesday (Sept 18) night in Europe (Wednesday morning, Singapore time) with some mouth-watering clashes like Liverpool v Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan v Tottenham. But fans in Singapore are still in the dark about whether they can watch them live on television.
Singtel, which had broadcast previous seasons on its channels, told The Straits Times on Monday: "Singtel TV remains in discussion with Uefa Champions League and Europa League licensee to secure broadcast rights."
Additionally, it responded to queries from fans on its Facebook page and said: "The previous three seasons of the Uefa Champions League were aired on Eurosport channel which held the rights. Since then, DAZN has won the broadcast rights to the upcoming three seasons of the Uefa Champions League and Uefa Europa League.
"While Singtel TV has entered discussions with DAZN to bring both Uefa football competitions to our customers, these discussions have been inconclusive, as DAZN has yet to confirm its broadcast plans.
"We will continue to follow up and will advise as soon as we have news to update."
StarHub's head of content business unit Lee Soo Hui also noted that the telco is still in discussions regarding the rights.
DAZN is a video streaming service owned by UK-based sports media company Perform Group, which also owns the website Goal.
Goal had posted an online article titled "Where can we watch the Uefa Champions League in South-east Asia?" on Monday, which had links for live streams of the 16 Champions League matches this week but the page was later taken down.
Attempts by ST to reach Perform's Singapore office for comments have been unsuccessful.
The impasse has left fans such as Freddie Chen upset. The 33-year-old Liverpool supporter said: "After the exciting end to last season's Champions League (the Reds were losing finalists) and the World Cup, my friends and I are really looking forward to this season's Champions League, especially with Liverpool taking on PSG at Anfield.
"It is ridiculous to put subscribers on tenterhooks when such content should be a staple. We hope to still be able to watch it on TV, but will also be looking out for alternatives should negotiations fall through."
This is not the first time that negotiations have dragged on between rights owners of major sporting events and local broadcasters.
In 2016, Mediacorp struck a deal with broadcast rights holder Dentsu for the Olympic Games only a day before the opening ceremony. Similarly, Eleven Sports reached an 11th-hour deal with Dentsu to telecast February's Winter Olympics a day before it began.
Such last-minute negotiations are becoming the norm as pay TV companies try to manage their content costs carefully, noted Oliver Wilkinson, entertainment and media leader at PwC Singapore.
He said: "It is still important for broadcasters to secure the right content. If they do not, it could trigger a vicious cycle. Customers will be frustrated if they can't watch the content they desire, leading to cancelled subscriptions. In turn, that will put a strain on the budget of the broadcasters, and make them even more likely to lose further content."
With more options to distribute content however, he added, rights owners could "decide to cut out the pay broadcasters and distribute their content directly to viewers, probably though online platforms".
R. Sasikumar, founder of sports marketing agency Red Card Global, believes a joint bid by Singtel and StarHub, and even Mediacorp - in a similar collaboration for this year's World Cup broadcast - may be the most viable option.
He said: "You can't blame the rights owners for doing their job and asking for the highest possible price, and a joint bid by the telcos would mean none would have to outbid the others and pay what they can't make back for this market size.
"I expect there to be a resolution and announcement soon, as the sponsors of the tournament will also want eyeballs in their key markets and will be upset if they don't get the mileage they paid for."