EPL subscribers call for refunds for missed football games
No matches have been played since March 13 due to Covid-19, with restart of season still up in the air
The English Premier League (EPL) season was supposed to end this Sunday.
But the league has been suspended since March 13 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving local football fans in a bind as they are still paying for matches they do not get to watch.
Some, like restaurateur Sukhvin Singh, are thinking of cancelling their Singtel TV subscription, which costs $69.90 per month.
The UK government announced on Monday that elite sport could resume from June 1, but mixed signals from officials and the fear of a second wave of infections hindering the resumption have cast a shadow on the return of the EPL and other leagues in Europe.
Mr Singh, 44, told The New Paper: "We pay a premium price to watch live football, but it has stopped. For Singtel to not come out to say that they will provide discounts or refunds is rubbish."
The Manchester United fan, who has been a Singtel customer since 1997, said he will return his set-top box by the end of this month if the telco fails to reimburse fans for the lack of live matches and if it remains unclear when they will resume.
EPL clubs have been told that they could have to repay about £340 million (S$593m) to domestic and international broadcasters, even if the season resumes behind closed doors, the BBC reported on Monday.
When TNP asked Singtel yesterday whether it would pass on part of any compensation it may receive to its subscribers, the telco referred TNP to its March 19 statement on its Facebook page. The statement said: "We are assessing various options for our customers during this suspension and will update customers as soon as possible."
StarHub, which broadcasts the German Bundesliga, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A and the French Ligue 1, told TNP it is working closely with its content partners to broadcast alternative sports programming in place of live events, including highlights of previous matches, interviews and magazine content.
Reacting to the telcos' statements, a subscriber who wanted to be known only as Mr Ridhwan, 26, said: "Who wants to pay for old highlights? We are paying for live games."
FORCE MAJEURE CLAUSE
Lawyer Akesh Abhilash said the telcos would not be required to show live games as long as there is a force majeure clause in the contracts of their subscription packages.
Such a clause excuses parties from fulfilling their contractual obligations when an extraordinary event, such as the ongoing pandemic, were to happen.
Conversely, it would also mean that consumers would not be obligated to keep paying, Mr Akesh said.
"In the event that service providers were compensated by the clubs, it is not a legal requirement for them to pass it on to consumers. That said, if their justification for charging high subscription fees is that they are paying hefty amounts for broadcasting rights, then they should refund customers if compensated by the clubs."
Of the 17 football fans TNP spoke to, 13 said they should be reimbursed for the duration of the leagues' suspension. Another two said they had cancelled their subscriptions.
Mr Nicholas Fang, managing director of communications advisory firm Black Dot, said he understood why subscribers may have been frustrated about being left in the lurch.
Telcos should be proactive and follow up with updates on the situation to reassure fans that they are looking out for them, he added.
Mr James Walton, the sports business group leader at Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia, said: "The way the telcos have handled things, there may be some pushback from fans, so they may just have to do something out of goodwill."
He was optimistic the EPL season would resume as talks between the EPL and clubs continue this week.
While the UK government may have given professional sport the green light to resume in June, a third player from EPL side Brighton & Hove Albion tested positive for Covid-19 last Saturday.
Other major European leagues eyeing a return, such as the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga, have also seen new infections in the past week.
Tampines Rovers defender Daniel Bennett said: "Resuming matches would be fantastic for fans, but you have to ask yourself, what about the players?
"(The pandemic) is not a small thing and it can really play on the players' minds."
Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam, who is a football fan, said that holding games in the coming months would contradict the principles of social distancing.
He added: "It would be good to have football back even if the matches would be "sian" (Chinese dialect for boring) with empty stadiums, but it will be hard to do it safely and I don't think they should resume for the time being."