NBT to broadcast Thai football league after TrueVisions deal expires

Thai government-owned broadcaster NBT will show live coverage of the domestic football league, Thai League 1, from next month, after current rights-holder TrueVisions’ deal expires.

The Bangkok Post reported that NBT acquired the rights from Zense Entertainment, the media firm that has acquired the domestic rights for Thai club and national team football in the 2021-28 period.

NBTC’s deal covers the remainder of the 2020 season that was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Four rounds of matches were completed before it was suspended in March. Two teams have withdrawn from the league this season, reducing it to 16 teams.

The Thai League 1 season is to restart on September 12 and run until May 3. NBTC’s free-to-air coverage will begin on October 31, after pay-television broadcaster TrueVisions’ deal expires on October 25.

TrueVisions is the Thai league’s domestic rights-holder for the 2017-20 cycle. It declined to extend the deal to cover the rescheduled 2020 season. TrueVisions is understood to have withheld a rights-fee payment due this year because of the matches undelivered due to the Covid-19 shutdown.

The Football Association of Thailand, which controls the rights to the league, held a summit in July to try to agree an extension of TrueVisions’ deal, but was unable to find an agreement.

FAT president Somyot Poompunmuang said the association subsequently had talks with three or four broadcasters about taking on the rights.

The Bangkok Post reported that Zense was asked by the FAT to take control of the rights after the expiry of Truevisions’ deal.

No deal has yet been agreed for coverage of the rescheduled Thai League 2 season.

The NBTC deal was announced at a press conference run by the Thai prime minister’s office on Wednesday, which was attended by a representative. Government minister Anucha Nakasai said, “This proves that the government gives importance to and support football and other sports.”

New rights cycle

Zense acquired its club and national team rights in a sales process run by the FAT last year for its global rights in the 2021-28 period.

The FAT was advised on the sale by the Octagon sports marketing agency, working alongside Southeast Asia-based media-rights consultants.

The rights were awarded at the beginning of this year, although the deals have not yet been officially announced.

In July, the Bangkok Post reported that the FAT’s deals with Zense and Eleven were worth a total of THB12bn ($382m/€323m) over the eight seasons, THB1.5bn per year. Other sports media industry insiders SportBusiness has spoken to say the figure is slightly lower. The FAT was originally hoping to generate THB1.9bn per season.

Zense’s plan for the domestic distribution of the content has not yet been announced. The company does not currently control any television or online distribution channels. The step into sports broadcasting is a new direction for the company. Its background is in the production of general entertainment television programmes – it has built a successful business creating its own formats as well as Thai versions of international formats.

In May, the FAT said the Thai league was considering permanently switching to a schedule that straddled two years, mirroring football seasons in Europe.

Update: Story changed on 19 October 2020 to remove the information that “International pay-television broadcaster Eleven Sports has also acquired rights for the new cycle.” It later came to light that Eleven had not finalised a deal for rights for 2021 onwards, although it had been in discussions about doing so.