Croatian weekly Nacional said that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic used the state-owned Telekom Serbia to buy the rights to the English Premier League in order to deal with Dragan Solak’s United Group.
“Telekom Serbia claims to be a very successful company but the 600 million Euro for six years worth of TV rights for the former Yugoslavia, that is 100 million a year, seems incomprehensible since that is eight times more than the sum paid to date. The number is even more incredible when we know that the Serbian authorities said that they saved just 100 million Euro less by cutting pensions,” Nacional said. It recalled that the Premier League matches will be aired on United Group’s Sport Klub ending with the 2022/23 season. It quoted Sport Klub CEO Nemanja Simeunovic who said the rights to the Premier League were paid 12 million a year from 2019 to 2022.
“United Group includes the N1 and Nova S cable TV channels whose journalists and editors are being treated like enemies by Vucic as well as United Group founder Dragan Solak which could be an indication that the 600 million Euro investment is not primarily economic but political,” it added. United Group responded to Vucic claims about the TV rights to the Premier League were lies, adding that the company offered 35 million Euro a year for those rights.
Nacional recalled United Group’s statement that Vucic had revealed himself as the chief Telekom strategist who took part in the negotiations to buy the rights to the English Premier League, adding that the company addressed him not as a head of state but as a competitor on the market.
Telekom Serbia CEO Vladimir Lucic also spoke up claiming that the price paid for the TV rights was justified and would bring the company much higher profits and revenue and would increase the number of its clients making it a leader in the region but added that the value of the contract is a business secret. He said the claims that the deal with the Premier League was politically motivated is nonsense. Nacional recalled that Lucic justified Telekom’s partnership with the Czech Telenor mobile services provider with the need to destroy United Group’s SBB cable services provider in Serbia.
The weekly recalled Telekom’s purchases of smaller cable services providers for huge amounts of money late in 2018 with the money paid to the owners of those providers used to buy two Serbian TV stations with national frequencies (Prva and O2) by people very close to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) “making it clear that the regime gained full control over all TV stations with national coverage and started pushing out SBB knowing that Telekom could not be held accountable for incompetence and bad decisions because the state would cover it financially”.
Nacional recalled that Telekom’s debts rose to more than 1.2 billion Euro in 2020. “Add to that the corporate bond issue of 200 million Euro (mainly bought by the National Bank of Serbia – NBS – to help the company) and the debt climbed to a record 1.4 billion Euro. The huge investments led to a rise in the debts, much greater than income and profits and the question is what the motivation and justification is for the new 600 million Euro invested in the TV rights to English football and the possibility of no earnings from it or at least getting the money back after the six year period,” it said and added that 300,000 Euro in advertising has to be secured for each of more than 380 Premier League matches to break even.
“One possible answer is that other state-owned companies and private business people close to the authorities will be under obligation to advertise or that Telekom is consciously heading for losses because it intends to push out all of its competition and become an absolute monopoly collecting all the profits,” the weekly said.
It said that this would mean that issues unpleasant to the authorities would simply go away since Vucic has control over all five TV stations with national frequencies and “should destroy N1 and Nova S and their curious journalists”. “Telekom could be used for that in a real market competition,” it said.