Brighton and Hove Albion in action against Chelsea on Monday. The Premier League’s previous deal in China was among its most lucrative overseas contracts
Brighton and Hove Albion in action against Chelsea on Monday. The Premier League’s previous deal in China was among its most lucrative overseas contracts © Richard Heathcote/Reuters

The English Premier League has secured a new broadcast deal with Tencent in China, moving quickly to replace its previous $700m contract in the country that was abruptly ended in a dispute triggered by the pandemic.

English football’s top tier agreed the one-year digital streaming deal with the Chinese internet giant on Thursday, according to people familiar with the talks, after scrambling to find a new broadcast partner in the country over the past two weeks.

The first round of this season’s matches, which began on Saturday, had been taken off air in one of the competition’s largest television markets after the league terminated a three-year contract with PPTV, a streaming service owned by Chinese retail conglomerate Suning, that was due to expire in 2022. 

The replacement deal with Tencent, which was approved unanimously by the league’s 20 member clubs, runs until the end of the season and includes a fee, as well as a revenue-sharing agreement with the Premier League based on subscriber numbers. But it is worth less than the amount PPTV was due to pay this season, according to people with direct knowledge of the terms.

Clubs have been reassured by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters that they will not be out of pocket from the new arrangements, partly because PPTV had already paid for half of its $700m contract, the people said.

PPTV withheld an instalment due to the Premier League in March, at a time when matches were postponed because of the pandemic.

While the Premier League has agreed rebates worth £330m with some of its broadcast partners to compensate for the three-month break during lockdown, it refused to renegotiate the value of its deal for this season as PPTV wanted, according to people with knowledge of the talks.

Tencent at present has 114m video subscribers and a number of deals with sports groups around the world, including a five-year $1.5bn arrangement with the National Basketball Association in North America.

The Premier League will also seek additional revenues by offering broadcasters in China the right to show “free-to-air” matches and short clips this season. It will also begin the search for a long-term broadcast partner in the country, aiming for a four-year deal starting in 2021.

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The Tencent deal comes as the league scrambles to limit pandemic-related losses, which have already caused a revenue shortfall worth £850m for last season. A further £570m drop in revenues is expected this season from the expected loss of match-day income. Fans are not expected to be able to return to stadiums before next month at the earliest.

The league’s previous deal in China was among its most lucrative overseas agreements, alongside contracts with US broadcaster NBC worth $1bn over six years and Qatar-based beIN Sports, which has paid £1.3bn for rights to screen Premier League matches in the Middle East since 2015. 

Television contracts have powered the Premier League’s growth over the past two decades, making it the world’s biggest football league in terms of revenues and global viewership. 

Last year, the Premier League said it would net £4.2bn from the sale of international rights for the next three seasons to 2022, compared with £3.2bn for the three preceding years.

Mr Masters said in a statement on Thursday: “We and our clubs have an extremely passionate fan base in China and are looking forward to working with the team at Tencent.”

Additional reporting by Ryan McMorrow in Beijing

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