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World Cup: Fans frustrated as broadcast info remains unclear

With just over three weeks before the World Cup starts on Nov 20, frustration is building among football fans in Singapore, who do not know where or how they can catch the showpiece tournament.

The Straits Times had reported in August that telcos Singtel and StarHub were in negotiations to broadcast the matches with world football governing body Fifa. A three-way partnership with Mediacorp – which was also the arrangement for the 2018 World Cup in Russia – is expected but, with just 24 days before the opening game between hosts Qatar and Ecuador, fans are still waiting for them to make an announcement.

Since World Cup viewing subscriptions were introduced in Singapore in 2002, the latest announcement of broadcast information had come 36 days before the start of the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

Communications manager and football fan Dominic Leong, 40, said: “Honestly, I’m quite sick of Singapore football fans always suffering from the fallout of the game of brinksmanship that Fifa and the broadcasters play.

“Fifa (and Uefa for the European Championship) always tries to squeeze Singapore for far more than our neighbours, simply because we’re perceived as a rich country – it sucks so much.”

In 2018, the three-way partnership between the broadcasters was announced 50 days before the tournament kicked off.

Fans then had to pay $112.35 – or $94.16 with an early-bird promotion – with pay-TV operators Singtel and StarHub.

These were the same prices to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was the first time that there was no price hike since paid World Cup subscriptions were introduced here 20 years ago.

Mediacorp aired nine games – the opener, five group matches, both semi-finals and the final – on free-to-air TV, with their costs managed by the Government, and intends to do the same this year.

Fifa’s revenue from selling global rights to the World Cup has nearly doubled in the last 20 years. Rights for the 2002 World Cup netted them US$1.69 billion ($2.4 billion). In 2018, it collected slightly over US$3 billion.

Singapore reportedly paid around $25 million for broadcast rights in 2018, a slight increase from 2014.

Freelance writer and Argentina fan Rahul Warrier, 22, said it was “unfair” that local football fans have not received “reassurance” from any broadcaster that they will be able to watch games.

“The World Cup comes once every four years, it’s a big occasion for football fans and it’s unfair that there’s no communication about it,” he said.

“The other question is about price – will the cost rise from 2018? And if so, by how much? Just because the demand is there doesn’t mean we should be left in the dark.”

But another fan, who wanted to be known only as Ganison, was more sanguine about the situation.

The 35-year-old educator, who had subscribed to past World Cup packages, said: “I remember a couple of years ago – almost a decade ago – the Champions League packages were only announced a day before, so with the World Cup about 20 days away with (league) football going on, it is still acceptable. Whatever packages are announced, we don’t have a variety of choices.” 

Fans in other South-east Asian countries have known for months how they can catch the action in Qatar.

The Malaysian government, for instance, announced in August that Radio Television Malaysia would broadcast 41 of the 64 matches free. Of these, 27 will be “live”.

Subscribers to pay-TV provider Astro’s sports pack – which is available for RM59.90 (S$17.90) for a six-month subscription for new customers – can catch all 64 games.

In the Philippines, the country’s main sports and entertainment media company TAP Digital Media Ventures announced late in July that it would broadcast all 64 games on pay-per-view channel WC TV. An “all access pass” package costs 1,999 pesos (S$48.60) and includes streaming options.

In Indonesia, games will be aired on free-to-air TV channels SCTV, Indosiar, O Channel and Mentari TV.