Kobkiat Sangwanich is not an unfamiliar face to Thais, especially those who follow the sports news. A successful negotiator, the 38-year-old businessman helped win the bids for the rights to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2008 for RS Company. More recently, he scored big again, winning all the media rights for Euro 2012 for GMM Grammy. Right now, he’s in competition for the rights to broadcast the most popular soccer matches of all: the English Premier League.
“Spending big doesn’t mean you will win the rights. It is about being in the right place at the right time. You have to know who the key man is or whom you should contact. I spend my entire year flying to meet and negotiate with the individuals involved face to face,” says the managing director for GMM Sports and Content Development.
The three most important factors in winning TV rights are speed, solid, and commitment, Kobkiat says.
“Solid means you have to guess the right value of the content. You must see all angles and have a gut feeling,” he says, adding that the bidder also has to meet its commitment, especially for financing.
Kobkiat has been involved in sports since the tender age of four. He started as a swimmer but quit at 17, explaining that at 1.77 metres tall, he felt couldn’t beat athletes topping the two-metre bar. He then turned his interest into tennis, coaching his girlfriend, the then national player Benjamas Sangaram. He brought the former SEA Games gold medallist to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney but she and her partner Tammarine Tanasukarn lost in doubles quarter-final.
Now 26, Kobkiat decided not to wait around for the next Olympics and embarked on a new career as a steward with Thai Airways International.
A year later, using his connections in the sports arena, Kobkiat started his own sport TV programme “Kamphee Keela” (sport tip) on Channel 5 and founded Sport Master Company to produce more sport programmes.
“I’d always felt that if I had a chance to be involved in the sports business, it would be in sport entertainment,” he says.
In 2006, he approached RS chief executive Surachai Chetchotisak to work with RS Sport Master Company. His new job involved organising events for the Sports Authority of Thailand as well as other major entertainment events such as the Bangkok Film and Pattaya Jazz festival.
Although his former and current employers are primarily music and entertainment companies, they are both interested in the sports business. “Their problem has always been finding someone with the right skills and contacts,” he says.
His chance to prove his worth came when he was approached by a senior figure to bid for broadcast rights for the World Cup. Kobkiat set to work and RS was finally granted the rights for 2010 and 2014.
The swimmer-turned-businessman admits that working with RS allowed him to cultivate plenty of experience, skills and contacts but says that after four years, it was time to move on.
He met GMM Grammy chairman Paiboon Damrongchaitham and joined the company, RS’s great rivals, in 2009. At first, he was in charge of business development. He says he didn’t want to be responsible for the sports side, as he would have been competing with his former boss. But the writing was on the wall.
Watching RS broadcasting the 2010 World Cup, the GMM chairman decided he wanted a tournament too and asked Kobkiat to help.
“I warned Khun Paiboon that bidding for the Euro 2012 would be too expensive. But the boss insisted,” he says.
Kobkiat prepared all necessary documents for the Euro bidding by himself. In 2011, Grammy founded GMM Sports and appointed him managing director.
Grammy paid Bt300 million for the Euro 2012 rights plus Bt150 million for production cost.
“The fee is expensive but the Euro [championship] opened a door to the future so it’s worth it,” he says. Grammy went on to acquire the sport rights to Germany’s Bundesliga, the Carling Cup and Japanese football League.
Kobkiat puts his success down to having the right contacts and support from his boss. He explains that during his time as an athlete, coach and steward, he met ambassadors, ministers, as well as national sport players, which gives him an introduction to the broadcast right owners.
Kobkiat also always asks Paiboon to accompany him for the negotiations, pointing that that it gives the company an advantage.
“The hardest part is winning over our own executive board. They are over 50 years old and have a great deal of experience. But not all of them understand why we have to pay hundreds of million of even billions of baht for the rights,” he says.
One of the biggest challenges in his career lies ahead: winning the rights to broadcast English soccer for 2013-2015 season. TrueVisions holds the rights until next year. The result of the bid will be announced in June.
“The Premier League is not the only answer to success. I never overlook the other leagues. We silently collected all the non-hit leagues, as they are good quality but cheap,” he says
However, he is confident Grammy has a chance to win the English league.
“I’ve succeeded in bidding for two World Cups and two Euro championships. Nothing is impossible,” he says.
With competition in the broadcast rights business stronger than ever before, Kobkiat, whose company provides a broadcasting-platform service under 1 Sky set-top box, says the biggest winners are the consumers, especially with more big players jumping into the market.
“Our 1 Sky model is low cost. The subscription fees are reasonable. We are trying to create an opportunity for those who have less chance to watch in line with our slogan ‘Everyone can watch’,” he says.