Tech giant Tencent has acquired the rights to broadcast the English Premier League (EPL) for the rest of the season in China, the company announced via its Weibo account on Thursday. According to local media outlet Lanxiong Sports, the one-year deal will cost Tencent just USD 10 million—a tiny sum compared to PPTV’s USD 700 million three-year contract.
The existing contract, which wasn’t expected to end until 2022, was terminated on September 3 by the Premier League. PPTV, a streaming service owned by Chinese retail conglomerate Suning, withheld payment of USD 213 million for the coverage of the 2019/20 season that was due in March, asking for a reduction in the fee due to the fact that games were suspended between March and July.
Negotiations with alternative partners were delayed, forcing Chinese fans to flock to pirated streams for the first round of matches and letting the Premier League lose the upper hand in the deal. Entertainment giant Tencent, on the other side, was entering with a strong position, due to its digital resources and experience in sports streaming—it’s also broadcasting the NBA in China.
Following the new deal, Chinese viewers will have access to all the remaining 372 matches of the season on Tencent’s sites including Tencent News, Tencent Video, and Jiguang TV, starting from Saturday. While the company said it will offer “enough” matches for free, it also released an all-season membership package for RMB 268 (USD 39.6).
“We’re glad to have agreed this partnership with Tencent to ensure that our Chinese fans can follow EPL action throughout the current season,” said EPL CEO Richard Masters. Tencent Sports general manager Ewell Zhao said that the company “hopes to leverage our platforms and technology to bring amazing matches to fans.”
While Chinese fans finally got an official channel to enjoy the rest of the season, some say that the slashed deal price marks the end of the “irrational era” of sports broadcast rights. “The pandemic only accelerated the exposure of the problem that prices are not reasonable,” local media outlet Sansheng wrote.