The escalating tensions between China and UK have reached a new tipping point as the Premier League on Thursday terminated its £490m contract with Chinese broadcasters PPLive Sports International after just one season, which had two years left in its contract.
PPTV had bought the rights for the 2019-2022 broadcasting cycle for £564m back in 2016, eclipsing the comparatively measly deal of $160m from 2013-2019.
The reason Premier League went ahead and severed its ties with China was because PPTV had withheld a payment of around £160m in March, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for falling behind in paying the dues.
“The Premier League confirms that it has today terminated its agreements for Premier League coverage in China with its licensee in that territory. The Premier League will not be commenting further on the matter at this stage.” read the Premier League statement.
The Premier League was paused on 13 March before being concluded later in the year due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with the expected payment from PPTV subsequently not arriving on time. It’s understood that the Premier League deemed this as a breach of contract on PPTV’s behalf.
However, it seems like the recent behavior of the Chinese media and its effervescent habit of mingling politics with sports had also not gone down well with the Premier League.
PPTV, a division of Suning Holdings had signed a three-year deal worth $700m (£564m) with Premier league in 2016 to air the matches. Some of those rights were sub-licensed to CCTV which in July had blacklisted some of the Premier League matches.
Reported by TFI, CCTV had not broadcasted the English Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea, where the former was handed the trophy for winning the league.
This incident had happened at the peak of the Huawei controversy where US had banned the telecom giant. As a result, the matches no longer appeared on the CCTV programme schedule, instead, they were relegated from the main channel to one that lures fewer viewers. The matches were shifted to CCTV 5+, a high definition channel regarded as the broadcaster’s secondary sports offering.
And that’s not all, last December the Chinese broadcasters had opted not to televise Arsenal’s Premier League match against Manchester City at short notice after Mesut Ozil criticised the China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
CCTV has not broadcasted the NBA since October in protest at a tweet posted by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morley, who expressed support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
Football lies at the heart of Xi Jinping’s plan to transform itself into a world leader. China has invested heavily in the Chinese Super League to bring it at par with the major footballing leagues across the world. But off late, the Chinese Super League has become a retirement-destination for football players who are at the fag end of their careers and looking to retire in tranquillity away from the rigors of the grueling Premier League.
That being said, it is China that has inflicted a self-goal as the massive amounts of money it had splurged to develop the game will go down the drain. With no Premier League around, it will be difficult to propagate the game around the middle kingdom.
It must be noted that PL clubs are by far the most supported out of all the foreign leagues in China. 56% of all Chinese fans follow a Premier League team while 34% follow a German Bundesliga club.
Recently, the Boris Johnson government decided to ban its mobile providers from using the Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s 5G equipment with effect from December 31.
China has been fighting a major battle with US President Donald Trump over Huawei. And the fact that the UK, which had for long been reluctant to go against China, has now finally taken Washington’s lead is hurting China a bit more than it had anticipated.
In addition to the Huawei ban, the UK has also criticized China heavily for bringing the controversial National Security bill in Hong Kong which is aimed at culling the autonomy and freedom of Hong Kongers.
The UK has banned arms sales to Hong Kong, suspended its extradition treaty with the city and invited as many as three million Hong Kongers to apply for citizenship in the U.K.
While PL remains tight-lipped about the issue and continues to iterate that the termination was due to financial reasons, one cannot rule out the possibility that the Tories might have pulled the strings from behind to give the Chinese a major jolt.