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K League international rights sales surge ahead of restart

K-League match between Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai at Pohang Steelyard on March 3, 2012. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Korea’s K League has agreed media rights deals in 10 overseas markets, with potentially more to come, as it prepares to become one of the few football leagues in the world to resume play next month.

The Korea Professional Football League, the body that runs the league, said its international media rights agency Sportradar has agreed deals in markets including China, Hong Kong and Croatia.

The league said there has also been interest in the rights from broadcasters in Australia, Germany, France, Italy, and the US. Rights deals have also been agreed with digital platforms Dugout (in Singapore), 433 (in the Netherlands) and Copa90 (in the UK).

The K League is due to resume its 2020 season, with matches behind closed doors, on May 8.

South Korea has had greater success than most countries in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. The nation’s biggest domestic league, the KBO baseball league, is also due to resume play behind closed doors, on May 5. This has also produced interest in the KBO’s international rights, with US sports broadcaster ESPN reportedly in talks to acquire them.

Sportradar is distributing the K League’s international media rights under an agreement covering the five seasons from 2020 to 2024. The deal covers rights for the K League 1 and 2, and playoff matches.

International feeds are supplied from the league’s new media centre, which opened in March. Among the league’s offerings to international broadcasters is 78 games per season with English subtitles.

In August 2019, coverage of the K League became available once again in China after an agreement was reached with K-Ball, the online streaming service of Win Power, a subsidiary of the China Sports Media agency.

The K League also said that a new domestic media-rights deal would be announced in the coming week.

The league has had a tough time selling its domestic rights for the 2020-23 cycle. It ran two tenders, one in December 2019 and one in January, eventually entering into negotiations with pay-television broadcaster JTBC for pay-television and ‘new media’ rights. That left it with a set of rights for terrestrial free-to-air broadcasters still to sell, for which the buyer is expected to be announced next week.