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Premier League pulls plug on PPTV rights deal in China

The Premier League has terminated its lucrative media-rights contract with Chinese streaming platform PPTV after the Suning Holdings-owned broadcaster failed to meet rights fee payment deadlines.

In a short statement, the Premier League said that it “confirms that it has today [Thursday] terminated its agreements for #PL coverage in China with its licensee in that territory”.

The news comes with clubs having convened at a Premier League shareholders meeting today.

PPTV’s three-year rights agreement was worth around $233m (£176m/€197m) per season and still had another two seasons to run (until the end of the 2021-22 season).

The clubs were said to have been considering options including demanding an immediate payment, negotiating a revised payment schedule, or terminating the deal.

PPTV failed to make a payment due in March and the broadcaster is reported to have tried to negotiate down the value of the deal. At the same time, PPTV offered to extend it for another three seasons, according to the Daily Mail, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Premier League season and on the platform’s business.

The Premier League 2019-20 season was suspended between March and June due to the pandemic, and concluded in a six-week blitz of games between June 17 and July 26.

Some Premier League broadcasters have attempted to negotiate reductions in their rights fees due to the schedule changes, as have broadcasters of other sports properties interrupted by Covid-19 around the world.

PPTV is understood to have also tried to renegotiate the terms of rights deals for other sports properties in recent months due to the Covid-19 impact, including a deal with the IMG agency for Italian Serie A rights.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV also acquired rights to show live Premier League matches during the current cycle in a sublicensing deal with PPTV.

The PPTV agreement was a significant one, even among the Premier League’s array of high-value media rights agreements. It was the league’s second most valuable international media-rights deal for the 2019-20 to 2021-22 cycle, after its agreement with pay-television broadcaster SuperSport covering sub-Saharan Africa.

Even before Covid-19 struck, PPTV was struggling with the high cost of its sports rights acquisitions, and industry insiders claim there have been several instances of late rights-fee payments. A spending spree in recent years included deals for the German Bundesliga and the Uefa Champions League, among other properties, in addition to the Premier League and Serie A.

In many cases, PPTV paid aggressive fee increases compared to the previous cycles. Most of the deals were done during a period of strong competition for sports content between Chinese streaming platforms that has since died down.

Last year, Suning Sport – Suning Holdings’ sports subsidiary which controls PPTV – laid off a large number of staff. There were talks between Suning Holdings and Chinese internet giant Alibaba about merging PPTV with the latter’s streaming platform Youku, but the two parties never reached a deal.

Suning Holdings’ main business is in retail – it is one of China’s biggest operators with a host of online and bricks-and-mortar stores. As well as Suning Sports, the company has one other major investment in sport – a 70-per-cent stake in Italian Serie A club Inter Milan.