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CJ ENM acquires AFC rights in South Korea

Son Heung-Min of South Korea applauds fans after the international friendly match between South Korea and Iran at Seoul World Cup Stadium on June 11, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Media group CJ ENM has acquired the rights in South Korea for Asian Football Confederation properties in the 2021-24 cycle, in a deal brokered by the DDMC Fortis agency.

The deal covers rights for all major AFC national team and club competitions. It starts with the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 Fifa World Cup which begins this September.

The press release announcing the deal said coverage will be across CJ ENM’s linear and digital channels, including flagship linear channel tvN. It also said Korean national team matches will be covered on “CJ ENM’s widest accessible and highest-profile channels”, and that AFC Champions League matches featuring Korean teams will be covered live.

CJ ENM is one of Korea’s biggest media groups, with businesses in television, film, music and live events. It runs both free-to-air and pay-television channels, although none currently carry significant sports content. Indeed, the deal marks a return to sports broadcasting for the first time in a decade for the company. It stepped back from sport after selling its Xports sports pay-television channel, a joint venture with the IB Sports agency, to broadcaster SBS in 2009. CJ ENM later acquired Uefa Champions League rights, for the 2009-12 cycle, but sold them on to MBC, another broadcaster.

Announcing the deal, CJ ENM senior vice president Rhee Myung Han said: “In the past, CJ ENM has broadcast major sports events such as KBO (Korean professional baseball), Uefa Champions League and major tennis tournaments. With this new sports rights acquisition, our flagship channel tvN will expand its existing line-up of entertainment, drama, cultural programmes, and strive to deliver a wider range of exciting content to our viewers.”

CJ ENM takes over the rights from incumbent JTBC, a pay-television channel operator. JTBC has been a significant player in Korean sports broadcasting in recent years. It operates a pay-television channel jointly with Fox Sports, JTBC3 Fox Sports. Last year, it acquired rights for the Olympics from 2026 to 2032.

Korea is one of the most valuable territories for AFC rights and a significant milestone for the sales cycle. Having guaranteed the AFC a large increase in revenue, DDMC Fortis must secure strong rights fee increases in many territories. Only two other territories were more valuable than Korea in the current cycle – China and Japan.

DDMC Fortis is understood to be in talks with the Dentsu agency in Japan about a deal for the new cycle, although an agreement is not yet thought to be close. China is considered the most important market this cycle, given the growth in the country’s sports industry since the last AFC rights sales process, the focus the Chinese government has placed on the development of football, and the strong links that DDMC Fortis has in the market. The agency is part-Chinese-owned, a joint venture between Fortis Sports, an agency led by former Team Marketing agency executives including Patrick Murphy and David Tyler, and Chinese sports, media and entertainment company DDMC.

The AFC and DDMC Fortis have announced only one other deal for the new cycle – with media group MNC in Indonesia last October. The sellers have a lot of deals to finalise before the first round of matches September 2020, although it is understood they are deep in talks in many territories and also with potential sponsors.

Welcoming the CJ ENM deal, DDMC Fortis chief executive Patrick Murphy said: “The addition of CJ ENM to AFC’s media partner family illustrates the trust our new partner has in AFC’s competitions and the outstanding products AFC will deliver.”