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Facebook shows it's got its eye on the ball as it makes biggest push yet into English soccer

Securing a three-year deal for the world's most lucrative soccer tournament would show the U.S. social media giant is serious about grabbing global sports rights.


FACEBOOK Inc has emerged as a contender to broadcast the English Premier League in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, its biggest push yet into top-flight soccer, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Facebook is in the midst of negotiating the rights and an announcement is expected within the next couple of weeks, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

Securing a three-year deal for the world's most lucrative soccer tournament would show the US social media giant is serious about grabbing global sports rights as it tries to get people in Asia to spend more time on its platform.

It is vying with Qatar-based broadcaster BeIN Sports, which paid around US$250 million for the current three-year deal to screen all 380 matches per season exclusively in the region, according to another person close to the situation.

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A spokesman for BeIN Sports said: "It is not appropriate to comment on a live process." Online trade publication TV Sports Markets previously reported that Facebook was close to securing the Premier League rights.

Premier League club owners have been hoping that Facebook, Inc and other US digital companies will take on the incumbent broadcasters such as Sky Plc, BT Group Plc and BeIN Sports and push up the price of the rights.

Executives of some teams, including Ed Woodward at Manchester United, have urged Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore to embrace the digital companies before he steps down later this year after two decades in charge.

The League's most recent contract for domestic broadcasts saw income fall to around £4.6 billion (S$8.21 billion) over three years from £5.1 billion under the previous deal. Amazon secured a small package of rights for the first time.

The League is still negotiating its international contracts and is hopeful it can make up the domestic shortfall through these deals. Facebook underlined its resolve to become a serious player in world sports by hiring Eurosport chief executive officer Peter Hutton earlier this year to help it broker worldwide live-streaming deals. Last year, Facebook bid US$600 million to stream Indian cricket but lost to Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Inc.

Most of Facebook's efforts have been on a smaller scale - broadcasting some UEFA Champions League European soccer matches in a venture with Fox Sports, streaming some US major league baseball and soccer games or producing sports documentaries such as No Script, about an Oakland Raiders football player. BLOOMBERG

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