Watching LeTV. Photo: LeEco
Watching LeTV. Photo: LeEco

It was a press conference I will never forget. I was five minutes late and could not find a seat. All the seats were taken by mainland sports reporters, whom I later learned were invited by a Chinese company which booked all 600 rooms in a hotel.

About 18 months later, the company was close to bankruptcy. The story of offering cheap NBA and English Premier League games was just too good to be true.

Spare a thought for LeTV Sports Culture Develop (Hong Kong), the sports streaming arm of ailing Chinese conglomerate LeEco, which was issued a winding-up petition by international sports broadcast rights company MP & Silva Pte and Media Partners & Silva because of default.

The unit is to be closed this week after a three-year effort by aggressive Shanxi business tycoon Jia Yueting to enter the Hong Kong market. He started with a bang but ended with a whimper.

At first, LeTV stunned local TV operators by winning the broadcasting rights to several sporting events, including the 2018 World Cup at a sky-high price. Some local operators tried to talk to LeTV about a redistribution deal.

After winning the broadcasting rights to the World Cup, LeTV made an aggressive push to get the rights to show popular football and basketball sports programs. They hosted a big press conference with a few hundred reporters gathering in the lobby of a hotel and receiving free T-shirts with the logos of some of the top soccer teams.

At the time when local operators Now TV and Hong Kong Broadband were offering two-year subscriptions for English Premier League and NBA games for about HK$250 (US$32) per month, LeTV launched a similar offer for HK$100 ($14) to entice subscribers.

By lining up distribution agreements with leading broadband subscribers, LeTV managed to get a substantial increase in subscribers, including yours truly and friends, because the offer also came with free movies and kids’ channels.

At the time, we thought we had a great deal. But before half the season was over, rumors spread that LeTV had not paid all the installments for the broadcasting rights. Then some of the major matches were not shown.

In early 2017, Jia Yueting asked China Sunac chairman Sun Hongbin to inject 15 billion yuan ($2.37 billion) into LeEco. The property tycoon eventually took over the video streaming and video empire after a second loan of 17 billion yuan by the end of the year.

Now I realize I paid almost the same subscription fee as the other operators offered, but my season ended six months early.