Slovenian university professor Marko Milosavljevic told N1 on Wednesday that political motives were behind state-controlled Telekom Serbia’s decision to overpay for the broadcasting rights to the Premier League.
According to Milosavljevic, Telekom Serbia can’t expect any profit from the deal after paying 600 million Euro for those rights, adding that he is convinced that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s regime is using the telecommunications company to expand its influence across the Western Balkans. The professor said he expects the European Commission to react.
Telekom Serbia paid a total of 600 million Euro for the broadcast rights over the next six seasons of the English Premier League. The amount is almost 10 times what United Media’s Sport Klub paid for those rights in earlier years, the Beta news agency said. Telekom Serbia has been waging an aggressive campaign over the past several years to woo customers away from SBB cable provider which airs all United Media channels including Sport Klub as well as N1 and Nova S. Those channels are not available on Telekom’s Supernova. According to a Telekom document that N1 gained access to several months ago, Telekom Serbia signed a contract with the mobile services provider Telekom which included pushing SBB out of the market in Serbia.
Milosavljevic said that the 600 million Euro Telekom paid is not a smart investment and it can’t expect to see a return on the investment. “Telekom Serbia certainly won’t make back its investment into the Premier League,” he said. The professor recalled that Telekom Serbia has been accumulating debt for years, increasing the debt to almost 1.5 billion Euro since 2017. “This 600 million Euro adds to that and I don’t think anyone can see how they will make that money back,” he said.
According to Milosavljevic, Telekom’s business decisions are a front for the political interests of the Serbian authorities and President Vucic who want to expand their influence across the region. “Telekom Serbia, a state company, is being used like a weapon or tool to expand the political interests of the current Serbian government like a Trojan horse used to enter the markets of the former Yugoslav republics, with primarily political motivation (…) You enter with sports programs and probably follow with others,” he said, adding that he is convinced that the European Commission will react because of its directives which limit the market presence of companies from non-EU member states when they are suspected of spreading geo-political influence. According to him, the European Commission might not be efficient in terms of political reactions but it does have a number of instruments to deal with activities running counter to its fundamental values, including the protection of competition.
“This is not about rule of law or the market but a politically motivated effort and attempt to destroy private companies,” he warned. The professor also commented Telekom CEO Vladimir Lucic’s statement that the Premier League contract was a business secret, saying that the purchase of TV rights can’t be secret. “Perhaps it can under some Serbian regulations but certainly not in the EU,” he said.