Glenn Wheatley’s EON To Broadcast EPL In China

Monday, Jul 25, 2016

Music entrepreneur Glenn Wheatley is plotting an ambitious push into China 36 years after he instigated Australia’s first FM ­station.

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Wheatley revealed he has acquired English Premier League audio rights for the world’s most populous country.

Mr Wheatley’s newly launched internet-based radio service EON Sports Radio digital network will form the linchpin of the move as he flies to China this week to close distribution deals.

EON’s chief executive has struck an agreement with British-based broadcaster Wireless Group, the owner of sports radio station TalkSport, which is being taken over by News Corp, the parent company of The Australian, in a £220m deal.

“I’m talking at a high level with the Chinese government, confident there won’t be any issues with this broadcast at all,” Mr Wheatley said. “We’ve complied with all of the government’s restrictions. Our signal has already been approved.”

With plans to broadcast in Mandarin via the internet from a hub in Australia, the launch should be perfectly timed for EON.

Piles of cash and President Xi Jinping’s obsession with the “beautiful game” is driving a new wave of popularity in soccer-loving China.

China aims to become a “world football superpower” by 2050, and Mr Xi wants to develop a national team capable of winning the World Cup.

Many of the top global transfers this year have involved Chinese sides and many big-name players from Europe’s established clubs are expected to follow.

Television rights for the 2016 to 2020 seasons recently sold for $US1.3 billion ($1.74bn), a 30-times increase on the existing deal.

“The plan is to expand beyond EPL because the local league is also phenomenally huge,” Mr Wheatley said.

“(Business partner) John Wall is fortunately a great financial partner. We’re very excited about what we’ve got on the table.”

EON, which was also the name of Mr Wheatley’s FM station in 1980, introduced its on-air talent last week as Mr Wheatley flicked the on-switch. Retired netball star Bianca Chatfield and former Socceroo Josh Kennedy will host shows that rival Melbourne-centric sport station SEN.

“I kept asking myself, ‘why don’t we have a national sports network?’ Rather than have an older demographic station based in just one market, I think there’s a big opportunity to fill a gap in the market,” Mr Wheatley said.

EON has been linked to a bid for AFL rights after sealing deals to broadcast five A-League matches per round, live Socceroos games, three National Basketball League matches per week and 12 English FA Cup games in addition to the EPL.

Mr Wheatley’s partner Mr Wall, founder of education business Acquire Learning, has tipped in almost $3 million to help fund the launch of EON. He owns a majority shareholding in the business, with Mr Wheatley holding the remaining equity.

EON has secured a suite of sponsors including online fantasy wagering and sports content provider TopBetta, chaired by Bauer Media CEO Nick Chan.

Mr Wheatley, who manages John Farnham, said: “I’ve got some good product, and we’re starting to fill the holes that SEN doesn’t cover. I think we’re going to be a lot more contemporary by skewing younger. We look good, we sound good and we’re national.”

It comes as radio companies, long used to a relative monopoly on car dashboards, nervously anticipate an era when internet radio should start to be more popular on the road. To head off the threat, traditional radio broadcasters have been creating their own online radio services as more cars are built with stereos that are made to connect internet radio, smartphones and digital music.

Mr Wheatley sees this rising trend as a big opportunity, noting that digital radio was in its infancy when many current models were being built. “Breakfast and drive programs are going to soar because most cars coming out of the workshop are now fitted with digital radio as standard. Our signal is crisper, cleaner and it comes with pictures and graphics,” he said.

A sign of growing interest in internet radio came this month when it emerged that US media giant Liberty Media floated an offer to acquire internet-radio company Pandora Media for more than $US3.4bn.

Three years ago, Mr Wheatley staged a comeback after acquiring two regional FM radio stations in Queensland from Southern Cross Media Group. A private equity-funded $17.75m deal saw Oceania Capital Partners acquire all of the issued capital of Sunshine Coast Broadcasters from Southern Cross Media through EON Broadcasting.


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