There is no running away from the fact that the rising cost of acquiring country broadcast rights to the football World Cup will never abate. Fifa, the regulator of the game, has the world in a stranglehold and it is not shy to demand ever larger fees from a captive clientele. Televised sport is big business, with rights holders to the Olympics, Masters golf, Formula 1 and tennis majors vying with football to charge as much as consumers can bear. The market is huge and growing - with nary a care for price-conscious consumers.
Singapore football fans who are protesting at having to pay $112 to watch the Brazil World Cup might wail even louder by the time the 2018 tournament in Russia rolls around. That's in the nature of insatiable demand for sports spectaculars. The richer Fifa gets from broadcast fees, so will the national associations affiliated to it. Domestic leagues these associations run prosper in unison, especially in Europe and South America. The pay of top players balloons accordingly: they want to be at the head of the gravy train, too. Fans are left to marvel at the impossible sums star players in the English and Spanish leagues command, not always realising that the largesse is paid for through the viewing fees they pay.
But fans here are not interested in arcane sports economics. They want to know what can be done to moderate the rising price trend that has made Singapore possibly the costliest country in which to watch televised football. There is little that could possibly be done about the supply end, but the demand end could be addressed by re-looking regulations and procedures under which rival TV operators bid for the rights. In the past, commercial sponsorship and advertising were enough to secure World Cup rights, with many games made available to all. Could a way not be found to make that winning formula work again?
Enough has been said about SingTel paying over the top for the English Premiership rights, which influenced how Fifa priced its World Cup offer. So, how to break the stalemate? Perhaps the Government was too quick to reject the idea that the national broadcaster step in, no doubt fearing demand for free premium content would be insatiable. Yet, given the popularity of the World Cup, which comes only every four years, it seems churlish to dismiss suggestions that the authorities find ways to help defray the cost and make more matches accessible to fans. Unfortunately, the market for World Cup packages has been spoilt by over-zealous competition. This arose from media liberalisation, which promised viewers more choice, including for sports action. Alas, for football fans, the outcome has been as much fun as watching their team score an own goal.
This article was published on April 22 in The Straits Times.
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