Swiss national soccer player Valon Behrami, left, fights for the ball with Blerim Dzemaili during a training session in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, in preparation for the 2018 World Cup – an event many sports fans in the Cayman Islands may have difficulty viewing due to broadcast restrictions. - Photo: AP

The bulk of the coverage of the football World Cup – one of the most viewed sporting events in the world – will not be available to almost half of the Cayman Islands population after cable company Logic secured exclusive rights to the competition.

With the exception of a handful of games, including the semifinals and final which the company is contractually obliged to offer free-to-air, coverage will be contained to its customers only.

Typically events like the World Cup and Olympics have been available “free to air” in Cayman with rights holders recouping their investment through advertising.

This time, Logic is using its coverage of the tournament to drive new customers to its network. Flow and C3 customers will not have the option to purchase coverage without changing providers.

The World Cup, in Russia, starts on June 14, and runs for a month, including 64 games. The tournament, held every four years, attracts billions of viewers from across the globe, including in the Cayman Islands where a mix of nationalities avidly follows every kick.

Rob McNabb, CEO of Logic, said the network would use a mix of cable channels and its own feed, to broadcast every game to its customers. He said it would be high-quality coverage and would not be impacted by the kind of customer complaints that have marred previous events, including the Olympics and past World Cups.

Mr. McNabb said the company had assured regulator OfReg it was ready and able to make some key games available to all viewers in the islands after questions were raised in the Legislative Assembly.

The rest of the tournament, however, will not be available to everyone. He said, “FIFA gives us a requirement that the opening ceremony, semifinals and final will be free to air and on display everywhere. That is the requirement of the contract we were given.

“You will get those games as a C3 or Flow customer. Whatever is not free to air will be on our platform only.”

***(Editor’s Note: Logic later clarified that the only way to access coverage of the semi finals and final without being a Logic customer will be through its free-to-air channel, using an antenna.)***

He said Logic could go beyond that minimum requirement and offer more games for free to all, but only Logic customers will get the whole tournament.

He acknowledged that some football fans would be disappointed by the news, but suggested that was the nature of broadcasting rights in a competitive marketplace.

Logic felt the flip-side of that, he said, when rival network Flow secured rights to screen weekly English Premier League soccer. Though some of Flow’s sports content is available to other cable providers, it does not include the full menu of EPL matches.

“I would love to sell the Premiership to my customers but Flow has those rights,” he said.

“We lost lots of subscribers because of the Premiership. It’s not ideal but that’s the way it goes.”

He said Logic had more than 50 percent of the market and was best placed to deliver quality World Cup coverage to the most customers in the Cayman Islands. He added that the company was still discussing the details of which matches it would make available to all and how it would achieve this.

Four years ago, WestStar, which was later taken over by Logic, won the rights to the World Cup and screened it on Cayman 27.

Though some concerns were raised about the quality of the feed and the fact that U.S. and Canadian channels were blacked out for the tournament, coverage was available to all for free. MLA Chris Saunders, who raised concerns about World Cup access in the Legislative Assembly last week, believes the event is too important to be a pawn in the battle for cable customers.

He said the issue was tied up with wider concerns that regulators had failed to enforce a licensing requirement that all cable companies carry a free-to-air public television channel, including important events and local content.

After being told that Logic did plan to offer some of the games free to air, he acknowledged, “It’s definitely an improvement from where we started, which was that nothing would be shown. The bigger issue is that the licensees are required to provide certain free-to-air content and they are not doing it.”

Other countries mandate that events like the World Cup are preserved for all.

In the U.K., for example, the British government won a legal battle with FIFA to allow it to mandate that all 64 games of the tournament be maintained as free-to-air.

FIFA had argued that the law prevented it from extracting the maximum commercial value by selling exclusive broadcast rights to cable companies.

Even if FIFA had won the case, all games involving England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as the semifinals and final would still have been preserved as “free to air.”

But the European Court sided with the U.K. on the broader argument that the entire tournament was an important part of the list of national sporting “crown jewels,” that it could mandate be made available to the whole population for free.

Mr. Saunders stopped short of calling for the Cayman government to impose similar restrictions, but he urged OfReg to take a closer look at the issue and to ensure that, at a minimum, the games that FIFA required to be made free-to-air, would be broadcast to all.

He said the regulator needed to up its game and tackle the larger issue that several of the cable companies were not providing the breadth of free coverage required by the terms of their license.

Randy Merren, an owner of rival cable company C3 and Hurley’s Media, which includes Cayman 27 and Island 24 channels, said he was disappointed not to be able to broadcast the tournament, which he believes should be universally available.

He said, “This is the World Cup and the idea is that everybody should be able to see the beautiful game for free. You sell advertising around it and get your revenue that way.

“If we had the rights, we could broadcast it on Cayman 27 and Island 24 and every customer of Logic or Flow would be able to access the content. That won’t be the case here.

“They are trying to leverage the World Cup to drive subscribers to their cable system.”

He said the regulator had failed in its duty to ensure cable companies carried public television, including local content, required under the terms of their licenses, and questioned why a company that did not fulfill that requirement was allowed to acquire lucrative broadcast rights.

Alee Fa’Amoe, head of the telecommunications arm of OfReg, did not respond to questions from the Compass this week.

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