- Deal with digital broadcaster PPTV had two years to run
- Action taken over unpaid money owed under the contract
The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, with the executive vice-president of Suning Sports Group, Wang Dong, in Shanghai in July 2019. Photograph: Fred Lee/Getty Images for Premier League
The Premier League has terminated its lucrative TV rights contract in China two years early, creating an immediate and major financial hole as football struggles to retain its revenues through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ending of the deal with the digital broadcaster PPTV, a division of the Chinese conglomerate Suning Holdings, for unpaid money owed under the contract, follows a report in the Mail last month that the company had withheld a £160m instalment that was due in March. PP Sports committed in November 2016 to pay £564m for the live rights from 2019-22, to be shown in a mix of free-to-air and subscription packages. It was, at the time, the richest overseas TV deal the Premier League had signed.
In a statement, released while a meeting of all Premier League clubs was continuing, the league said: “The Premier League confirms that it has today terminated its agreements for Premier League coverage in China with its licensee in that territory.”
League sources stressed that the reason for the termination was financial, not political, so distancing the decision from any fallout caused due to the increasingly difficult relations between the British and Chinese governments. In July, after Premier League matches were relegated from China’s state broadcaster CCTV to lesser watched channels, some commentators linked the move to the government’s ban of the Chinese telecoms company Huawei from British 5G mobile networks, and other diplomacy problems, although this was not officially confirmed.
In emphasising the decision was financial, the Premier League effectively confirmed the reports that money due under the contract in March had not been paid and it had been in dispute with PPTV over the contract since. Suning Holdings describes itself as China’s leading sports industry group, with its subsidiary, PP Sports, having exclusive rights to Europe’s four other biggest top-flight leagues, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1. In 2016, Suning, founded in 1990 in Nanjing, China, bought a majority stake in Internazionale for £240m.
Jiangsu Suning, the club in the Chinese Superleague owned by Suning, issued a statement on Wednesday denying that its players had gone on strike for unpaid wages.
The Premier League has previously confirmed that all payments due from broadcasters were paid for the 2019-20 season that was completed late following the coronavirus shutdown. The £160m that was due in March is said to relate to next season, and the league will seek to find a new broadcaster in China to fill the financial gap and maintain its presence in a country considered very important commercially for the league and its clubs.
Suning did not respond to a question from the Guardian about the termination of the TV contract.
The league also decided by a small majority of clubs to maintain the rule that applies in normal, non-pandemic times, for clubs to name seven substitutes and be able to play a maximum of three. Proposals to extend the rule that applied during last season’s restarted matches, for nine players to be on the bench and a maximum of five to be used, was defeated by 11 to nine. Smaller Premier League clubs are understood to have combined to oppose the rule change , believing it gives richer clubs with deeper squads a competitive advantage.
No decision was taken on proposals for deciding how the coming season would be curtailed if a resurgence of coronavirus means all 38 matches cannot be played. Neither proposed threshold for considering the season concluded – 66% or 75% of matches played – achieved the required majority vote.
Clubs are also said to be still considering ways to broadcast more matches to supporters who are unable to attend because of Covid restrictions. The possibility of streaming live matches to season-ticket holders is understood to have been discussed, but with the season starting next Saturday, 12 September time is very short to agree a solution.