By Paul Nicholson
June 22 – UEFA has added its voice to the fast-growing lobby of broadcasters and sports rights owners lining up against pirate Saudi Arabian sports channel beoutQ that has so far stolen feeds for every game of the Russia 2018 World Cup and rebroadcast to a middle east and north African footprint via the Arabsat satellite.
While FIFA has made very little attempt to protect its rightsholder – Qatari-based beIN Sport – UEFA’s statement is much harder hitting.
UEFA is unequivocal in condemning “all unauthorised broadcasting and illegal streaming activity” and says that BeoutQ pirated both its Champions League and Europa League competitions throughout the season and including the finals.
Getting to the core of the issue for rights owners in all sports, UEFA said it “considers that illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by beoutQ poses a significant threat to European football.”
The point being that if beoutQ is allowed to steal broadcast signals for free, what incentive is there for broadcasters to pay huge rights fees. This ultimately undermine (if not dismantle) the whole economic model of European football and in the current context FIFA’s funding.
FIFA’s apparent inaction looks likely to be linked to the Saudi contribution it is expecting towards president Gianni Infantino’s proposed (but so far rebutted) $25 billion plan for a revamped international calendar – in essence he seems to be prepared to sacrifice the $200 million+ of beIN Sport cash for a somewhat vague and so far undefined promise of $25 billion of Saudi-backed cash.
It is a very dangerous game of brinkmanship to play with rightsholders already feeling the pressure of the inflated rights fees and hence for Infantino personally in his run-up to re-election next year. He needs the support of commercial partners to fund his gifting programme to federations who will re-elect him, but he doesn’t need to be branded as the FIFA president who swapped the equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes for the security of established – and fully paid up – broadcast partners.
As one rightsholder’s representative who asked to remain anonymous told Insideworldfootball: “It is becoming increasingly hard in a fragmenting media marketplace to justify the fees we are being asked to pay. So when there is no protection from the rights seller one wonders that with friends like these, who needs enemies.”
UEFA’s solution is considerably more direct and indicates that it will put pressure on Arabsat, the satellite carrier distributing the beoutQ signal in the region. Ultimately if the channel refuses to stop pirating the live broadcasts then the next strategic play looks to be to have the whole channel removed from the distribution platform. This might not be so easy as Arabsat is based in Riyadh and 35% owned by the Saudi government.
“The protection of our Intellectual Property is key to UEFA and we will take the necessary steps to address the issue in order to enforce and protect the rights granted to beIN Sports, including through engaging with relevant satellite carriers in the region. For the avoidance of any doubt, beoutQ has received no rights whatsoever from UEFA to broadcast any UEFA event,” said UEFA in its statement.
beoutQ has been peppered with cease and desist orders over its piracy by beIN Sport but shows no sign of stopping its broadcast of content it does not own – and this is not just the football content or confined to beIN Sport brodacasts but also includes NBC Universal and Eleven Sports content.
Late Thursday night the Saudi sports minister, Turki al-Sheikh, complained that UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was a man “of many faces,” whom he had no wish to meet.
UEFA retorted: “UEFA was quite surprised by a tweet of @Turki_alalshikh, as the UEFA president has never heard of this person and he therefore would have no reason to meet him.”
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