AFC ditches troubled Chinese broadcaster

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KUALA LUMPUR: Asia’s football body on Tuesday said it has terminated the contract of cash-strapped LeSports to broadcast its games in China and found a new partner after reports of payment defaults and legal action.

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The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said it had “no alternative” but to end its $100 million, four-year deal with China’s LeSports, which was due to run until 2020.

The incident follows rocketing prices in China’s sports sector, and a warning in official media of a “bubble” in Chinese football after spending topped $1 billion last year.

China Sports Media (CSM) will now replace LeSports, a subsidiary of tech firm LeEco, and broadcast games including the AFC Champions League, World Cup qualifiers and the 2019 Asian Cup.

“CSM secured the rights for the AFC competitions… after the AFC had no alternative but to terminate its contract with Le TV (LeSports), which had been signed in August 2015,” an AFC statement said.

“The new deal was agreed with CSM Chairman Li Yidong and means that there will be uninterrupted coverage of this week’s AFC Champions League fixtures in China.”

There was no immediate comment from LeSports. A spokesman for Lagardere Sport and Entertainment, which has exclusive rights to sell the AFC’s media properties, referred queries back to the Asian football body.

Ambitious LeEco’s interests extend to self-driving cars, film-making and TV manufacturing, after a rapid expansion which has put strain on its cash flow.

In January, LeEco secured a $2.2 billion investment from a group led by a Chinese property developer, a lifeline that did not stop its shares plummeting.

Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, said LeSports missed paying a portion of its $100 million contract in January, and another deadline last week, with the matter now the subject of a lawsuit.

Highlighting China’s red-hot market for sports rights, Suning Holdings’s PPTV paid a reported $650 million to broadcast the English Premier League in China over three years in November, a 12-fold increase on the previous deal.

AFP

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