The U.K.’s Premier League terminated a 650 million pound ($861.6 million) agreement for the broadcast of English soccer matches in China amid growing political tension between the two countries.
The decision means that state television broadcaster CCTV, which has the rights to broadcast Premier League matches in China, will not show the start of the new season, scheduled for Sept. 12. The Premier League did not offer further comment in an emailed statement.
The move comes after CCTV relegated Premier League matches from its main sports channel to one that lures fewer viewers. Ties between the two countries have deteriorated in recent months, with the U.K. banning telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. and opposing a new national security law imposed in Hong Kong.
Chinese streaming service PPTV has been withholding a 160 million pound payment to the Premier League, according to a U.K. report.
“This development is taking place against the backdrop of increasingly sour relations between the U.K. and China,” said Simon Chadwick, director of the Centre for the Eurasian Sport Industry. “It therefore seems likely that there is some not inconsiderable politicking behind this decision.”
The breakdown between the Premier League and one of its largest overseas markets could have a major impact on U.K. club finances. Some of the top teams in England, such as Manchester United, have millions of supporters in China and operate fan shops there. The Premier League has boosted its popularity in Asia substantially in the past few years, staging pre-season tournaments in the region. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur traveled to Shanghai for an exhibition game last year.
Some English clubs such as Manchester City, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion count Chinese tycoons or companies as investors. The Fosun Group, controlled by billionaire Guo Guangchang, owns Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.