FOR many Malaysians, watching and supporting their favourite football team in the Barclays Premier League (BPL) is a passion. Loyalty to a club in the league is often parochial, with time carved out of one’s schedule to watch a match involving the big teams.
The age of cable and satellite TV has allowed many fans in Malaysia to watch the games like never before. Although it’s not as comprehensive as, say, in Singapore, where all BPL games are shown live, catching the games on ASTRO, if you follow the big teams, is satisfying enough. Basically, you can watch all the games of the big clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United.
The cost of beaming such games is not cheap and it keeps going up. In the United Kingdom, the rights for three seasons starting from 2016 went for £5.1bil (RM28.46bil), a 70% increase over the last deal. The new TV sports deal for the BPL is the second most lucrative in the world behind the National Football League in the United States. It is reported that with the new TV deal, all 20 teams in the BPL will rank among the top-30 richest clubs in Europe.
What makes the BPL a runaway success compared with other leagues in the world is viewership, especially in Asia. BPL games start at a TV-friendly time in this part of the world and not in the early hours of the morning like the many other leagues in Europe. Plus, it’s the familiarity of the clubs, their players and their history that make it a bigger box office draw than the Spanish, French, Italian or German leagues.
The spike in the price of the UK rights means that the cost to show the games in Malaysia will probably go up. In the past, any increase in the price of BPL rights was passed on to the subscribers of Astro’s sports package.
Many fans will fork out the money to keep watching the games. There will be those who cannot afford it and there will be others who will tweak their packages. Watching the games is a necessity for many, cost permitting.
The thought of Astro not screening these games because of a prohibitive cost can cause a backlash. Fans of the BPL will probably revolt with their subscriptions if they cannot watch the most lucrative football league in Malaysia.
In this age, fans are able to watch streams of such games on the Internet, but the viewing experience is not the same. Plus, the BPL in Malaysia generates an economic value beyond just what the broadcaster makes in the form of advertisements and subscription.
Bars, clubs and even mamak restaurants are a draw for many viewers on the weekends when games are shown. Viewing parties are common for the breweries that use football as a channel to drive sales.
Then, the popularity of the BPL has also meant more Malaysians are wearing jerseys and buying merchandise of the big clubs in Malaysia. Much of the merchandise is sold by local retailers and clubs have now joined in the action.
Liverpool has opened a store in Kuala Lumpur, something it would not have done if there wasn’t sufficient demand for the club’s merchandise in this country.
The age of TV deals has also been a benefit to other sports. The M-League has bagged a big deal from MP & Silva, which guarantees the Football Association of Malaysia RM1.26bil over a 15-year period.
The lucrative deal should see the fortunes of local clubs improve, as fans have returned to the game in larger numbers than in years past.
Apart from football, badminton and sepak takraw are the two other sports that have TV deals for the local league.
Money in sport generally serves as an incentive to improve the quality of the game, and the direct beneficiaries are the players. The Financial Times reported that players’ salaries absorb more than three-quarters of a typical club’s turnover.
“The average wage now exceeds £2mil, a 20-fold increase since 1992 and up more than three times in a decade,” it said in one report.
With salaries so lucrative, and TV deals pouring money into other sports, it can mean that the number of people taking up sport seriously should increase. And that can only mean that sport as an industry will be a viable option for the next generation if they are good enough.
Talented kids nowadays have options. The time spent honing their skills can pay off big time if they are good enough. Maybe this can be another reason for parents to tell their children to get away from the monitors and TV screens and go play a sport.