Asia a major contributor to EPL broadcasting rights

Up to six million people in Britain watched the game between English Premier League clubs Manchester United and Arsenal live - 60,128 people at the venue, 3.4 million watching Sky television at home and an estimated two million more in 40,000 pubs and clubs. But it was also possible to watch live in 201 other countries. The Premier League has a global "reach" into 613 million homes, and estimates a typical live audience for a single match of around 79.5 million. "With Sunday's fixture such a pivotal occasion, featuring big clubs, it is estimated it could have drawn double that," The Independent reported.

"In each of the 16 countries across three continents represented by players in that one game alone, and in many other places, there is a growing appetite to watch live, top-end English football. That is why the League was able last week to announce it has sold its next tranche of overseas TV rights (for seasons 2007-10 inclusive) for £625 million, double what it earned last time. And why the Premiership is now the most-watched league in the world."

The bidding wars in Asia and elsewhere started when the EPL put its next foreign rights out to tender last September. Some 450 interested parties were involved, generating bids from 130 entities covering 208 countries. In all, 81 separate deals were done, all concluded directly between the EPL and broadcasters, allowing the League to tailor coverage (for example supplementary magazine shows featuring local players) to local needs. The smallest deal was Fiji TV buying the rights for Fiji (population 900,000), Vanuatu and a few other small Pacific islands, while the biggest was ESPN Star's deal for pan-territory rights ranging from Macau and the Maldives to India and Pakistan. Other major deals include C-more Entertainment buying rights for Scandinavia, and Showtime winning the rights from ART in the Middle East. In Thailand, it took six rounds of bidding for UBC, a pay TV operator, to wrest the rights from ESPN Star. In Hong Kong, the pay TV operator PCCW outbid I-Cable by paying a reported £10 million, in a territory of only seven million people.

The territories of the Asian Football Confederation appear to have been the most lucratve and Africa the most discounted. According to The Independent, political intervention into the tedering system by the UK Chancellor, Gordon Brown led to a new structuring of deals across Africa, to be split by several broadcasters instead of being held by the pay TV monopoly holder, Supersport. "The upshot is that 390 million extra African households (most poor, many Muslim) will gain some free-to-air access of live Premiership games from next season. If it seems strange for British politicians to argue for live English football as a right in the Third World, it is indicative of the game's popularity and power."