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June 28, 2017

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No-win situation in CPBL broadcasting disputes

It was supposed to be a rosier outlook for Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (中華職棒, CPBL) for years to come when the 25-year-old league signed a lucrative broadcasting deal with an international media rights company this January.

The historic six-year NT$2.04 billion deal with MP & Silva, a London-based international media rights company, was originally expected to be a huge boost to the league's four debt-ridden teams.

With the promised financial infusion, each team could recruit more young talent and improve the infrastructure of their home stadiums, ultimately making CPBL games more appealing.

The international company's impressive portfolio, which included FIFA World Cup rights and Europe's top soccer leagues, was also seen as a perfect opportunity for the local league to reach out to global audiences.

As promised by MP & Silva when it announced the deal this January, it saw potential in the Taiwanese professional baseball market and was planning to promote the league in other parts of the world.

However, the promise made by the company saw a dramatic turn last week when it unexpectedly announced on July 19 that it would immediately end its contract with the CPBL, without detailing the reason behind the decision other than saying that the Taiwanese league had violated the contract.

The surprising announcement shocked both the league and tens of thousands of baseball fans.

In response, the CPBL immediately released a statement to guarantee that it would continue broadcasting its games via existing channels on multimedia on demand (MOD) services, and the self-run CPBL online streaming network would continue despite the setback.

Stressing that the league has done nothing to violate its agreement with MP & Silva, the CPBL will ask the media rights contractor to explain the reason for severing the deal, and they will even consider filing a lawsuit against the London-based company.

The CPBL also promised that it is looking forward to signing a new deal with another broadcasting rights company or TV network to broadcast the rest of the league's remaining games.

There are numerous rumors as to why the international company would unilaterally call off the deal only six months after the historic agreement was sealed.

Some said the unexpectedly poor revenue seen after the signing of the huge contract and the comparatively bleak outlook for the CPBL were the main reasons.

Others said that the CPBL side had leaked the details of the contract to a local weekly magazine this April, a move that angered MP & Silva and led to the sudden decision.

Regardless of the true reason behind the move, the surprising announcement will definitely deal a serious blow to the league that was originally hoping to use the lucrative contract for a brand new start.

The four teams that were previously promised a large share of income can now no longer receive the money, which may result in a significant budget cut for each team amid a CPBL season that has already seen a 20-percent drop in ticket sales so far.

For the fans, however, what they really want to know is where they can continue to watch the CPBL games in the future, and whether they will be able to watch the league's games on the local cable TV network that reaches nearly 60 percent of Taiwanese households if the league ultimately finds a new broadcaster.

One way or another, the whole broadcasting dispute has turned the originally promising season into a disaster to all involved and no one is a winner

The CPBL needs to solve the dispute as soon as possible or the original promising outlook for the most-watched professional sports league in Taiwan could turn bleak in no time.

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