SingTel, StarHub – BT

Are SingTel, StarHub teaming up for EPL bid?

Both kept mum whether their bids are solo or joint

Singapore Telecommunications and StarHub have both tossed their hats into the ring for the English Premier League (EPL) broadcast rights. But the silence surrounding the nature of their bids could mean that the bitter rivals could turn from foes to allies this time around.

The two companies yesterday confirmed that they have submitted bids for the next three seasons of the EPL, the crown jewel in StarHub’s sports programming line-up. However, both telcos kept mum when asked if they were going solo or opting for a joint assault.

Their silence adds to recent speculation that the rivals could launch a joint EPL bid to reduce the heavy price that has to be paid for the world’s most-watched soccer league from 2010 to 2013.

Besides the two telcos, ESPN Star Sports is also expected to be involved in this contest.

StarHub forked out an estimated $250 million in 2007 for its three-year EPL screening rights, a four-fold increase from what it previously paid.

With its growing popularity, market watchers expect EPL rights to soar even higher, prompting concerns that the sky-high costs could eventually be passed on to consumers.

Investment research firm CIMB pegged the figure at $400 million, nearly six times higher than the price ESPN Star Sports paid for the 2004 to 2006 campaign.

To cap escalating content costs, Deutsche Bank’s research arm subsequently said that a joint bid between SingTel and StarHub was becoming ‘increasingly likely’.

The Programme Advisory Committee for English Programmes – a body appointed by the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts in 2007 to give feedback on English broadcast programming – also urged the two pay-TV operators to join hands in the interest of local viewers.

Fanning the speculation even further, officials from the Football Association Premier League have also clarified that they have always allowed joint bids from Singapore.

In the United Kingdom, the broadcast rights are typically in the hands of a few players. For example, ESPN currently owns two of the six EPL groups while Sky Sports has a claim on the remaining four.

However, Kim Eng research analyst Gregory Yap believes that a dream partnership between SingTel and StarHub is an unlikely outcome.

‘. . . SingTel and StarHub are fiercely-competitive and are unlikely to agree,’ he said in a client note on Monday.

‘If anything, SingTel is more likely to bid aggressively even if it does not win just to spoil the show for StarHub,’ Mr Yap added.

This would mirror the scenario in 2007, where SingTel went head-to-head with StarHub and ESPN Star Sports.

Singapore’s largest operator was then hoping to score a star attraction ahead of the launch of its Mio TV service.

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