Caixin
May 04, 2017 04:05 AM
BUSINESS & TECH

LeSports Cancels Soccer Event, Raising Concerns About Finances

(Beijing) – Sports fans waiting online to watch an early Wednesday soccer game of the UEFA Champions League were left hanging when broadcaster LeSports canceled its live streaming event at the last minute.

The match between Real Madrid and Altetico Madrid was scheduled for 2:45 a.m. The blank screen inspired market speculation that LeSports, the sports media arm of technology conglomerate LeEco, might lose broadcasting rights to the popular event because of unpaid rights bills.

LeSports didn’t respond to Caixin’s inquiry. It said Wednesday afternoon on social media that it would resume live streaming of another European Championship match Thursday morning.

A source close to LeSports management said the sudden cancellation was because LeSports failed to pay satellite transmission fees on time. LeSports has paid the broadcasting rights fees under its agreement with the Union of European Football Associations, the source said.

The episode fueled concerns over LeSports’ financial condition. Since last year, the company has lost its rights to broadcast Asian Football Confederation soccer games, ATP tennis games and Chinese Super League soccer games after defaulting on payments. Analysts have attributed LeSports’ money woes to its rapid expansion and to the financial difficulties facing the parent company, LeEco, run by billionaire Jia Yueting.

LeSports is among Chinese media platforms that have spent billions of yuan over the last few years on deals to broadcast live sporting events in an effort to grab a share of growing consumer spending on leisure and entertainment. By October 2015, the company had signed more than 250 agreements, chief operating officer Yu Hang, who is responsible for deals and overseas strategy, told a news briefing at the time.

Separate sources told Caixin that LeSports raised 8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) from investors in April 2016 in its second round of financing, but half of that was used to support LeEco’s other business lines. LeSports is seeking another round of financing, sources said.

LeEco’s Jia acknowledged in a letter to employees in November that the group was facing a cash shortage after spending billions of yuan on breakneck expansion into areas such as smartphones, electric cars and film-making.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)

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