Tiansheng grabs English soccer rights

Move ends era of free soccer viewing for Chinese fans

BEIJING — For the 30 million fans of English soccer in China, the news of the end to cheap access to British footie was as welcome as a bone-shuddering sliding tackle by Chelsea defender John Terry.

From late August, when the season starts, Chinese fans of the English Premier League will have to cough up a hefty $24 a month to watch Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in action next season after Tiansheng TV, a station run by state-owned Guangdong Provincial Television, secured the broadcasting rights for three years.

The news marks another setback for Rupert Murdoch’s ambitions in the Chinese market — currently China’s 30 million Premiership addicts can watch games lives on ESPN-Star, a joint venture of Walt Disney Co. and News Corp., via a local cable TV broadcasting service, at a much lower monthly cost.

Tiansheng TV beat out pubcaster China Central Television and ESPN to win the rights for a reported $50 million.

“The fans will have to endure the pain of the change. Let’s say goodbye to free Premier League. No more free lunch in the future,” said Tiansheng TV prexy Song Zheng.

Win TV has just 40,000 subscribers at the moment but the pubcaster is confident of winning over a legion of fans for English football. It also will provide coverage on cell phones and online along with live TV.

Chelsea and Manchester United have targeted China as a major potential growth market — Chelsea recently opened a Mandarin Chinese Web site, while Man. Utd. had a high-profile pre-season tour of China two years ago.

The company will relay a big range of European soccer matches, including the Premiership, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga. The network also covers league matches in Japan and South Korea.

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