A Chinese broadcaster has retaliated against England’s Premier League, escalating a legal feud over the collapse of their $700m contract during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Premier League sued a streaming service owned by Chinese retail conglomerate Suning for $215m last year for failing to make payments for the rights to screen live matches and highlights.
PPLive Sports International is now countersuing, claiming at least $116.8m from the Premier League.
The dispute relates to payments for the live transmission of matches in the Premier League — the world’s richest domestic football competition — after the pandemic forced scheduling changes on broadcasters.
Premier League football matches were suspended in March last year — the same month PPLive withheld an instalment — for three months before recommencing in June.
Clubs were forced to pay £330m in rebates to some of the Premier League’s broadcast partners as a result of the blackout. However, PPLive failed to come to an agreement with the Premier League and their discussions have ended up with a dispute in court.
“The Premier League seems to have adopted a double standard and treated a domestic UK broadcaster differently from a Chinese broadcaster,” PPLive Sports said in a statement to the Financial Times. “We have made our best efforts to reach a compromise, but we have been left with no choice but to take legal action.”
The company added that it had received “less than a third of the value of this contract but paid half the money for it”.
PPLive said in its claim, which has been filed at the High Court in London, that there had been a “fundamental change” to the competition when it restarted, causing “substantial losses” to the broadcaster.
Changes to kick-off times meant there were fewer matches during primetime slots in China, while the lack of fans in stadiums changed the atmosphere, it said.
PPLive said it wrote to the Premier League in June to negotiate a reduction to the fees it owed under their agreement. However, the Premier League “demanded” that PPLive continued to pay advance instalments for future matches, according to the claim.
The Premier League declined to comment. PPLive said the Premier League had retained $116m paid for matches that were not broadcast. The broadcaster is seeking to reclaim that amount plus interest and damages.
PPLive also said it would seek to reclaim the $210m instalment that was due in March last year should the Premier League succeed with its claim.
In September, the Premier League signed a one-year contract with Chinese internet group Tencent to replace PPLive in the country. All 20 Premier League clubs approved the deal.
People with direct knowledge of the terms of the Tencent contract said it was worth less than the amount PPLive was due to pay for the current 2020-21 season.
As well as a fee, the new deal with Tencent includes a revenue-sharing component with the Premier League based on how many people subscribe.
The loss of the PPLive deal, which had been due to expire in 2022, was a blow to Premier League clubs, which continue to miss out on match day revenue as games continue to take place without spectators. As a result, protecting broadcast revenues has been a high priority for the Premier League.
The dispute is a challenge for Suning, which is in talks to sell all or part of its majority stake in Inter Milan, the Italian football club.
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