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Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007

SOCCER SCENE

Outlook grim for TV coverage of Premier League openers


Premier League fans' hopes of watching live games on satellite television this opening weekend are pretty much dead in the water, but Soccer Scene has learned all is not lost for the season ahead.

James Mulligan

SPORTFIVE, the television rights holder for live Premier League matches in Japan, is hopeful a deal can be thrashed out soon with J Sports or another Japanese broadcaster despite an impasse in negotiations that has left fans fretting.

"J Sports is one of the broadcasters we are in talks with. It is not the only one. We are working on a solution with these broadcasters," Lutz Tigges, SPORTFIVE senior director, international leagues, told Soccer Scene by telephone from his office in Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday evening.

"Negotiations are complex and I don't want to comment on this — but we would like to give the opportunity for the thousands of fans in Japan to watch Premier League football — God hope we can and we are keeping our fingers crossed we can find a solution."

Unfortunately, Tigges said it looked as though a deal would not be done in time for this weekend's fixtures.

"It's done when it's done. In 48 hours a lot can happen, but we are not aiming for this weekend," he said.

J Sports broadcasts on channels J sports 1, J sports 2, J sports Plus and J sports ESPN.

A J Sports public relations employee who wished to remain anonymous said in a phone call with Soccer Scene on Friday that the broadcaster doesn't want to say it is in negotiations, announce anything while negotiating or before anything becomes official, or say over which leagues the broadcaster is negotiating.

The J Sports employee did say, though, there have been examples in the past where live game coverage has begun after the start of the season and that live Premier League games could be televised after the season starts.

Soccer Scene has learned SKY PerfecTV, last year's broadcaster of live Premier League matches, is not one of the companies in negotiations with SPORTFIVE, despite recent reassurances to the contrary from operators working for its customer helpline.

"SKY Perfect are not negotiating with the Premier League. They did this till the end of last season. This year, J Sports are negotiating with the Premier League," said public relations employee Yoshihide To on Thursday.

To was less optimistic than Tigges a deal could be worked out between a Japanese broadcaster and SPORTFIVE.

"As long as I know, the Premier League has been asking for huge amounts of money to broadcast the games. So in my personal opinion that means I think the negotiations are not going well," said To.

"At the 2002 World Cup we (SKY PerfecTV) got the right to broadcast the games and we paid ¥17 billion ($144 million) and since then the amount for television rights has been growing."

According to Tigges, SPORTFIVE owns the Premier League rights for Japan for the next three years and said the sale of the rights to broadcasters in Japan is not the responsibility of the Premier League.

Soccer Scene spoke to Gavin Margetson, a lawyer in the Tokyo office of international firm Herbert Smith and who has acted for clients in the sports and media industries.

He said Friday: "Some fans may consider that the Premier League, by selling the broadcasting rights for Japan to an intermediary and not directly to a broadcaster, has abdicated its responsibility to ensure that the league receives worldwide coverage.

"However, the Premier League is also under an obligation to its member clubs to obtain the highest price for the television rights, and selling the rights for Japan to SPORTFIVE may have been the best way for them to achieve that objective," Margetson said.

The Premier League didn't immediately return phone calls on Thursday evening and didn't respond to an e-mail by 10 p.m. on Friday.

The lack of live satellite coverage of Premier League matches in Japan could cause difficulties for businesses such as pubs and bars that depend on live soccer coverage for attracting customers.

There are some ingenious ways around this, though. Some bars will no doubt try to show games using Internet coverage.

In Tokyo, Mark Spencer, owner of the Hobgoblin pubs and Legends Bar, will use a South African Internet channel called Supersport to show live Premier League games in his pubs and bars and said the picture quality is high.

"We've been doing it for four years now, with sports like rugby, cricket, Formula One, so we've had a lot of practice with this and so we have the best quality in Tokyo," Spencer said Thursday. "We have our own dedicated media servers that we stream games from."

On Saturday, the Hobgoblin pubs in Roppongi, Akasaka and Shibuya and the Legends Bar next to the Roppongi Hobgoblin are scheduled to show the following live Premier League matches: Sunderland vs. Tottenham Hotspur at 8:30 p.m., Bolton vs. Newcastle United at 10:45 and Aston Villa vs. Liverpool at 1 a.m. early Sunday morning.

On Sunday,, the Akasaka branch will be closed but the others will show replays of Aston Villa vs. Liverpool at 1 p.m., Middlesbrough vs. Blackburn at 3 and West Ham United vs. Manchester City at 5.

The live matches scheduled Sunday are Arsenal vs. Fulham at 7:45 p.m., Chelsea vs. Birmingham at 9:25 and Manchester United vs. Reading at 11:45.

Go to www.hobgoblin.jp and www.legendsports.jp or call the Roppongi Hobgoblin at 03-3568-1280 for details.



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