As reported by RFE/RL this week, Turkmenistan is for the first time broadcasting the European football championships to local viewers.
Now, state broadcasters are hoping to build on that precedent by securing the rights to European Champions League -- the continent’s premier club-level contest -- which is also hugely popular among local sports fans.
Viewers have in the past relied on their trusty satellite dishes to view that competition, usually picking up games beamed from Tajikistan, whose television stations are typically less precious about the legal niceties of broadcasting rights.
The country’s only sporting newspaper, “Turkmen Sport,” recently ran an article headlined “A Gift of the Hero President,” explaining that Turkmenistan has become a full-fledged member of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU). The article explained that this has given Turkmenistan the option to relay the Euro 2012 championship -- an achievement the article predictably attributes to a presidential order.
Full ABU membership, according sources at the state broadcaster, guaranteed Turkmenistan rights to Euro 2012 for the nugatory sum of $20,000. No information is available about the cost of ABU membership fees.
The broadcasting of the competition on local television has been perhaps most keenly welcomed in the provinces, where people are less likely to have satellite dishes and where such equipment is either not readily available or too expensive.
While there is obvious appeal to hearing sports commentary in one’s own language, RFE/RL does fairly note that the quality of local commentators may leave something to be desired:
The Russian and Turkish channels -- ORT, Rossiya, and TRT 1 -- have professional TV hosts adept at giving compelling play-by-play commentary.
The Turkmenistan Sport hosts, it seems, have an annoying tendency to inject a bit of politics into the proceedings, frequently thanking authoritarian Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for creating the new channel in the first place.
No deal has been made for the Champions League yet, but the popularity or otherwise of the Euro 2012 experiment could prove decisive.
What does seem more certain is that securing these rights will be crucial to the viability of Turkmenistan’s 24-hour sport TV station -- also a brainchild of the president, naturally. For all the official enthusiasm that accompanied the station’s inaugural broadcasts on January 1, 2012, it has failed so far to gain much of a local following.