Tuesday, September 02, 2014


Malaysia's New TV Deal May Come At A Price

Short term thinking is a way of life for many except, perhaps, for Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. The now matters and the future can take care of itself. It is something I have often moaned about on these pages and the classic example, for me at least, is Arema back in 2009/2010.

They had a good coach in Robert Alberts and they had a good team including Singaporean imports Noh Alam Shah and M Ridwan and promising goalie Kurina Meiga coming through. They won the ISL for the first time in their history and all was set fair for some sustained success in Malang.

Of course the storm clouds started gathering towards the end of the season with rumours players were being owed money. One of the biggest clubs in the country with a support to match, they had problems paying the bills!

Of course the stars of that title success got fed up waiting and the team was soon broken up. It has taken Arema four years to mount another sustained title bid.

I was reminded of the Arema experience recently as I watched the unfolding drama in Malaysia over a new TV deal. Let's face it, Malaysia on the world stage is still pretty much a basket case. Humiliation has piled on humiliation be it the 5-0 loss at home to UAE to a farcical friendly against a Zimbabwe national team that wasn't a national team via all those KL players being banned for match fixing.

That makes the headlines. The step by step successes don't. Yes, Malaysia needs to be commended for the progress it has made in some areas. They won the AFF Cup in 2010 for the first time in their history between back to back SEA Games triumphs for example and their attempts to raise a new generation of players by having them compete in places like Slovakia and Australia shows an out of the box thinking rare in this region.

But that kind of stuff doesn't sell papers. It just ain't sexy.

A few years back, a private TV operator, Astro, came along, offered the Football Association of Malaysia a barrel full of cash and proceeded to show more live games and with better coverage. Football fans were getting world class coverage, with Shebby Singh punditry, for a fair to middling league blighted by allegations of match fixing and corruption. It seemed a pretty good deal.

The MSL has come on over the last few seasons with the infusion of cash that has benefited clubs like Johore Darul Takzim and Pahang but there are still too many games that have all the appeal of taking your least favourite aunt, or uncle to a Michael Bolton concert. Even me! I was in KL a few months back and there was a game on but after weighing the alternatives, football, sleep, football sleep, I decided to sleep. The prospect of going to see the two teams involved didn't really get the juices flowing.

That TV deal is to end soon and the FAM has now awarded a new deal to a company that has come in with a higher price. It wasn't always like that though...earlier in the year Astro were considered hot favourites to keep broadcasting Malaysian football. A tie up with Murdoch's promised the lure of increased overseas exposure. Imagine, people actually watching Malaysian games rather than just reading the shock horror headlines.

My understanding is the companies were keen to promote the MSL throughout South East Asia. Imagine, sitting in Chiang Mai, Hanoi or Balikpapan and switching on the old box and catching Safiq Rahim pulling the strings for JDT or a packed stadium roaring Kelantan on.

But the heady excitement of a few months ago soon passed. The attraction of Malaysian football being seen in a new, positive light around the region and, possibly, further afield, faded in the face of rival, higher, bids.

At the end of the day, the TV rights were sold to a different player as Astro decided to explore different opportunities. The FAM got more money, not much more but more, so the bean counters should be happy. It's business and we all seek to get the highest price we can.

But what price the image of Malaysian football? The likes of Selangor have a long and proud history yet they are little known outside of their home country. Would the FAM have been better going for a slightly lower bid and building on the experiences of the three previous years while expanding the appeal of the game?

This looks like an opportunity wasted.Football in South East Asia will continue to be looked upon by the rest of the world as the place to send big European teams on lucrative pre season tours, a place to sell replica shirts and a place where the local game is riddled with match fixing because no one will be seeing any different.

Better the guarantee of rice today than the hope of fish tomorrow.

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