Questions surround Serbian state telco’s €600mn Premier League deal

Questions surround Serbian state telco’s €600mn Premier League deal
By Eldar Dizdarevic in Sarajevo July 21, 2021

Serbian state telecommunication company Telekom Srbija has agreed to pay a reported €600mn to secure the broadcasting rights to English Premier League matches for six seasons starting from 2022/23. 

The reported price of €100mn per season for Premier League matches is ten times higher than what rival broadcaster SBB had been paying, according to independent Beta news agency, raising questions about Telekom Srbija’s motivation for signing the deal. 

Speaking to Beta, the telco’s CEO Vladimir Lucic refused to disclose the size of the deal. “The company TelekomSrbija denied the amount, but refused to provide other information. This state-owned company has been refusing to respond to requests for access to information of public importance for years,” wrote the Coalition for Freedom of Access to Information of Public Importance (SpiCoalition) on Twitter. 

Nemanja Nenadic of Transparency Serbia has also called on the state-owned company to disclose details of the deal, and told local media that there was no clear economic logic. 

There is speculation that the deal could be intended to get a larger audience for Telekom Srbija’s broadcast offering in the Western Balkans region, who would then become an audience for the Serbian state news broadcasts on the same channels. 

Professor Marko Milosavljevic from the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana commented to N1, owned by rival broadcaster United Group, that the deal appeared to be motivated by political rather than economic considerations. He said Telekom Srbija is highly unlikely to make a return on its investment in the Premier League rights. 

"Telekom Srbija, which is a state-owned company, serves as a kind of weapon or tool for spreading the political interests of this current Serbian government, as a kind of Trojan horse that enters the market of the former Yugoslav republics, primarily with political motives,” Milosavljević told N1.

The deal follows a lengthy struggle for supremacy between Telekom Srbija and privately-owned United Group whose SBB has broadcast the Premier League on its Sport Klub channel for years. TV N1 called it a politically motivated move aimed at harming its rival. 

In April Serbia’s Commission for Protection of Competition gave the green light to contracts between Telekom Serbia and Telenor that will enable the former to enter the television content distribution and fixed broadband internet markets. 

The approval was given two months after United Media's N1 announced that it had access to a document in which Telekom Srbija and Telenor Serbia agreed on business co-operation with the goal of reducing SBB's market share to less than 30%. N1 also claimed that the director of Telekom Srbija, Vladimir Lucic, confirmed the existence of a document whose goal is to destroy SBB.

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