SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Asian football’s governing body has terminated a broadcast deal with China’s LeSports, it said on Tuesday, a day after Reuters reported it had torn up an agreement with the firm after it fell behind on payments.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said in a statement that China Sports Media (CSM) would take over the rights for the rest of the 2017-2020 commercial cycle after being left with “no alternative but to terminate its contract with LeTV”.
The breakup of the deal underlines rising concerns that China’s soccer market has expanded too quickly.
Huge transfer deals for players, massive investments in overseas clubs and fierce competition for television rights have fuelled billions of dollars of spending in the last two years.
The AFC had signed the previous deal, worth more than $100 million, in 2015, giving the sports unit of Chinese tech firm LeEco exclusive rights to broadcast AFC matches including the Asian Champions League and 2018 World cup qualifiers.
LeSports said in a statement that its deal with the AFC had been terminated.
“We have let you all down,” the firm said, adding that customers would be recompensed.
As a “leader and pioneer” in the sports market, the firm said it had gained a lot of experience, but also faced setbacks.
“We grew at a fast pace into a leading company of the Internet and sports market, and became a model for many other sports start-ups to imitate,” it said.
Sources had told Reuters that the agreement was cancelled last week after LeSports failed to pay the latest instalment on the contract.
The AFC’s new deal with CSM meant there will mean no break in coverage of its competitions in China, the body said.
With Chinese club Shanghai SIPG hosting Australian side Western Sydney Wanderers in the group stage of the Asian Champions League later on Tuesday, there were concerns the contract issue could affect broadcast coverage.
“We look forward to working with CSM in the next few years as they are committed to providing the best and most comprehensive coverage of the AFC competitions for the tens of millions of Asian football fans in China,” AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said.
LeSports had made a last-minute payment in December to ensure it was able to honour its commitments to broadcast the English Premier League.
It signed a two-year deal at the start of 2016 worth 2.7 billion yuan ($392.70 million) for the exclusive rights to the Chinese Super League and announced plans to purchase a stake in soccer club Beijing Guoan, although that deal was not completed.
LeEco’s billionaire chief executive, Jia Yueting, said in a letter to staff in November that the conglomerate was facing cash shortages and the announcement of cuts to staffing levels at LeSports followed in December.
While the Chinese national team continues to struggle, the domestic game has experienced a huge surge of interest thanks to the influx of a host of high-profile, and highly paid, foreign players such as Brazilian Oscar and Argentina’s Carlos Tevez.
Reporting by Peter Rutherford in SEOUL, Jessica Macy Yu in TAIPEI and Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty