Malaysian football may have just made the best signing ever

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden dissects the implications of a new TV deal for football in Malaysia.

There can’t be many better places in the world to go out for breakfast than Malaysia. This is a country where restaurants and hawker centres (food courts but with a local twist for those unfortunate souls that have not been) are packed to bursting just as the sun is rising.

It is a great way to start the day. Head out for a bowl of noodles first thing and be surrounded by people, chatting , reading the newspaper or just getting ready for the day head. The atmosphere is almost as pleasant as the food and it puts a spring in your step.

All too often though for football fans, the mood is spoiled by the time lunch comes around. Bad news of late has been able to put a dampener on any meal, almost like the opposite of the addictive sambal sauce.

There’s no need to go into what has happened in the last few years. Let’s just say that the start of 2018 has marked a welcome change in the headlines and the mood. There was the display at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championships when the team reached the quarter-final. There was genuine enthusiasm and happiness in Kuala Lumpur at the time and it showed that the country is desperate for a little success.

What is really interesting, intriguing and exciting was what happened on Monday. Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) which operates the league, announced a new partnership with Iflix, a regional version of Netflix.

The company will telecast all Malaysia Super League games — — over the coming season and have committed for ten years. They will pay 300 million Ringgit to do so (around $75 million) and this is a sizeable sum in Southeast Asian football. There are all kinds of possibilities with this deal.

Firstly, there is the money that can be invested in the game. The sum is not small and this is a real chance to make a difference. Iflix reportedly has plans for all kind of content around the games to promote the league and widen engagement between clubs and fans.

While all this remains to be seen, the signs are positive. There is no doubt that the television broadcasts of league and cup games can seem a little tired and stale in their format. Iflix does not replace these traditional broadcasters –the deal for the coming season is to be announced soon –but should push them to up their game a little.

There was more good news as Kevin Ramalingam, head of FMLLP, explained. “We wanted an inclusive deal that could reach the masses. Football should be accessible to everyone. The module is a free one for 2018 and we will slowly move into a subscription in later years. It will not cost more than RM20 monthly then.”

So this year, the service will be free for all. This should mean that fans can watch on their phones, laptops, anywhere. This is truly exciting. It opens up the league to all. There is no need to hog the television on a Saturday evening, you can keep up with the game wherever you are. The fact that is it going to be free this year will hopefully make for healthy viewing figures.

Increased exposure will be good for the game.

With increased exposure throughout the country then more sponsors should come forward and get involved with the game. Again, this can only be a good thing.

While fans should be excited, there is no reason yet to get carried away. We will have to wait and see what transpires. A few teething problems can be excused for a short time but much depends on the quality of the telecast –any issues there and the headlines will not be kind. The talk of new and exciting content sounds great but ultimately, the fans will be the judge of that.

But it is a bold and exciting move and one that all should get behind because if it works well, this could be a moment that is talked about for years to come, a turning point in the fortunes of football in Malaysia.

Fans are always looking for big signings but this could be the best and biggest yet, the best in Southeast Asia.

It is the kind of signing that many have been calling for for years. It is the kind of deal that has the potential to change Malaysian football and the kind of partnership that could help the league unlock its potential.