The state telecommunication company Telekom Serbia's decision to pay 600 million euros for the broadcasting rights to English Premier League (EPL) matches in six seasons starting from 2022/23, widely seen as a politically motivated move aiming to harm the privately-owned United Group (UG) whose SBB broadcast the EPL for years, also caused bitter public reactions.
Telekom has started a war against the SBB cable provider and, helped by the state authorities it acquired small providers, several TV channels, and publicly admitted the goal of the contract with the Czech-owned Telenor is to destroy the SBB and put the UG, its United Media and SBB out of business in Serbia.
The last move worth 100 million euros per season for the EPL matches is, according to the independent Beta news agency's sources familiar with the deal, ten times higher price than SBB had been paying.
Telekom Serbia CEO Vladimir Lucic declared the price a business secret. President Aleksandar Vucic said he did not know what the price was but he knew that Dragan Solak, the Founder and Chairman of the UG Advisory Board, and Dragan Djilas, an opposition leader, raised the price in the first round of negotiations and lost in the end.
He asked an N1 reporter why the UG was angry when Serbia progressed and when the state company won in bidding for the broadcasting rights?
However, Slovenia’s professor Marko Milosavljevic told N1 on Wednesday that the purchase was politically motivated, adding he was convinced that Vucic’s regime was using the telecommunications company to expand its influence across the Western Balkans.
He said he expected the European Commission to react.
“Telekom Serbia can’t expect any profit from the deal after paying 600 million Euro for those rights,” Milosavljevic said.
His thoughts have a foundation in business reports about Telekom Serbia, showing its debt rose to 1.44 billion euros, from 289 million in 2017, following numerous acquisitions. Many saw them as an attempt to suffocate independent media in the country, primarily N1 and Nova TV channels owned by the UG.
Misa Brkic, an economic journalist told N1 later on Wednesday, „it didn’t matter how much it costs – we will pay everything just to squeeze out and destroy the competition“.
Commenting on the Telekom Serbia investment of 600 million euros, he said that was a huge amount for large world telecommunication companies.
„If the seller had said twice the amount, Telecom would have agreed to that price, for an obvious reason – to destroy the competition on the market with the state and borrowed money. That is a monopoly position and an anti-competitive move,“ Brkic said.
According to him, Telekom is building its business muscles by borrowing more and more every year, without considering the relationship between debt and profit, which is an accurate indicator of business.
He adds that the respective agency shows the efficiency of Telecom is declining from year to year, which Vucic and the management say nothing about.
The latest move also prompted bitter public reactions on social networks.
One Twitter user said: You are paying 600 million euros for EPL! How many sick children could have been treated with that money, you vagabonds!
The other commented, referring also to six children in Serbia with Spinal muscular atrophy who the public had been collecting 2.5 million euros for a single treatment abroad.
“That would be for 300 children with the rarest diseases,” a Twitter user wrote.
The other said: Do you believe that Sky Deutschland pays €25m per season for broadcasting EPL in DE, AT and CH, and Telekom Serbia €100m per season for the RS, HR, SL, BH, MN and MK territories!