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TSA’s Heng joins AFC as head of media rights

Qatar celebrate victory at 2019 AFC Asian Cup (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

The Asian Football Confederation has recruited Connie Heng, chief media officer at the Total Sports Asia agency, as its head of media rights.

Heng, who was with TSA for over two decades, has taken up the Kuala Lumpur-based position at the AFC.

The AFC has been searching for heads of media and sponsorship rights to support Andrew Rogers, who joined as commercial director last year.

The exit of the experienced Heng, TSA’s main media-rights executive, raises further questions about the Malaysia-based agency’s future in the media rights space given its reduced portfolio and the winding-up of the TSA-backed Sportsfix OTT platform.

Heng is expected to work closely alongside DDMC Fortis, the joint venture agency selling the media and sponsorship rights to AFC competitions from 2021 to 2028.

The AFC began its search four months ago for an executive to head up its media rights strategy, working on sales plans, deal memos, the agreements themselves and handling post-sales account management matters with broadcasters. Heng will also liaise with internal AFC departments with regards to the media rights and their delivery.

Heng joined TSA as a TV sales executive in late 1999 and has worked closely alongside Marcus Luer, TSA’s founder and group chief executive. She was promoted five years ago to head of media (from her position as vice-president of media sales).

Following Heng’s departure, the agency’s client-facing media rights sales and acquisitions matters are being overseen by Vee Ricard and the satellite operation matters by Ramesh Mathavan.

Along with media rights sales and acquisitions, TSA has been active across broadcast production, sponsorship and licensing, events management, stadia consulting and branded real estate. However, rival agencies say that have not come up against TSA in media rights auctions for some time.

The agency was at one time the leading player in distribution of racquet sports content in Asia, holding international distribution deals with the Badminton World Federation, International Table Tennis Federation and Professional Squash Association. TSA has also distributed the media rights to Glory, the international kickboxing series co-founded by Luer in 2012.

Sportsfix demise

TSA endured a turbulent 2019 as Sportsfix, the OTT platform targeted at the southeast Asian market, was hit with a winding up order from Lagardère Sports Asia in August. The winding up order was lodged against SF Media Holdings, the owner of Sportsfix and a TSA subsidiary company.

Sportsfix launched in Malaysia in 2017, teaming up with mobile operator Celcom and with rights to cricket’s Bangladesh Premier League. The platform sought to agree deals with telecoms operators keen to monetise data consumption through live sports streaming.

Rights were subsequently acquired to the top football leagues in China, Korea, Indonesia and Thailand and the Philippine Basketball Association. The most high-profile deal announced by Sportsfix was an agreement with MP & Silva for Serie A rights in Malaysia (in 2017-18).

At the start of 2018, the platform secured an additional $1m (€915,900) in funding from Australia-based boutique investment firm Mayfair 101. Sportsfix went live in Indonesia in March 2018 as it targeted a roll-out in more southeast Asian territories.

Commenting on the demise of Sportsfix, Luer posted a message on LinkedIn that highlighted “a crazy three years of trial and error, all the highs and lows you can imagine with a tech start-up that was introducing the first sports OTT platform to the Asean sports fans and later integrating blockchain as well.”

Luer continued: “Valuations soared, it all made sense, disrupting traditional media, empowering the fans, democratising content, sachet pricing, niche content etc. The vision was right…the big question is, what is the revenue model? In simple terms, Sportsfix ‘failed’ to crack that question in time and we ran out of runway.

“We are licking our wounds, dusting ourselves off, learning our lessons and retooling for the next round.”