Chinese football fans were left sweating on Friday after the Premier League pulled the plug on a mega-money broadcasting deal, just over a week before the new season kicks off.
The self-styled best football league in the world on Thursday abruptly terminated its contract with streaming service PPTV, said to be worth about $700 million (Â£524 million).
The fallout reportedly dates back to March, when PPTV failed to make a £160 million payment for coverage of the 2019/20 season.
The Premier League gave scant details of the contract termination in a brief statement on Thursday.
PPTV referenced the coronavirus pandemic in its public comments on the issue, saying “after many rounds of talks, there remain disagreements on the value of rights between PP and the Premier League”.
Chinese media overwhelmingly reported the story as a consequence of a new financial reality in light of the pandemic.
There was no mention of possible political reasons, given souring ties between London and Beijing.
No matter the reasons, it leaves Chinese football fanatics facing the prospect of not being able to watch Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and the rest when the season kicks off on September 12.
“Chinese fans have lost the Premier League for a fourth time,” the respected Soccer News said, referencing other instances when the league fell off Chinese screens.
Opinion among fans was split on the Twitter-like Weibo, where the story generated more than 100 million views, with some blaming PPTV and others accusing the Premier League of greed.
“No matter what, I still hope that there will be a broadcaster who can take the copyright for this season,” said one Weibo user.
Another attacked the Premier League as “shortsighted” because it “will miss out on the huge Chinese market”.
However, one expert was optimistic there may soon be good news for fans in China, the world’s second-biggest economy and a major growth market for the Premier League.
Andrew Collins, CEO of global sports digital agency Mailman Group, which is headquartered in Shanghai, told AFP he thinks league bosses will be able to strike a new bumper deal even as the days tick down to the season.
“I believe that there is scope to generate thereabouts the same value,” said Collins.
“However, I believe it won’t be a single online broadcaster with exclusivity.”
Collins believes that “there will be a number of suitors” willing to buy the rights “and I think they can move at speed in China”.
“The demand is there and absolutely the product needs to come into the market because the fans demand it, the appetite is there,” he said.