By Paul Nicholson
January 11- Qatar-based pan-regional broadcaster beIN Sport has written a second letter to Serie A urging new CEO Luigi De Siervo to change the venue of the Italian Super Cup final that will be played in Jeddah next week to a location outside of Saudi Arabia.
Serie A has signed a three-year Super Cup hosting agreement believed to be worth €20 million with the Saudis. The Italians are flying in the opposite direction of global football rights owners in a move that threatens to destroy their own rights. They also appear to be getting on the wrong side of a collective legal action shortly to be issued by football rights holders, including FIFA and the AFC, against Saudi. A move that would likely severely damage Italian football’s international expansion ambitions and credibility with partners.
Yousef Al-Obaidly, beIN Sport’s chief executive wrote to Serie A in December protesting their decision to host in Saudi Arabia in light of the ongoing piracy by Saudi channel beoutQ. That piracy includes the illegal retransmission of Serie A matches for which beIN holds the broadcast rights.
Al-Obaidly said: “This decision (to host the Super Cup in Saudi Arabia) has significant implications for beIN Sports, one of the largest worldwide investors in Italian football, but more significantly for the long term value of Serie A’s media rights both in the MENA region and worldwide.”
Al-Obaidly reinforces his point in his second letter, saying Serie A are in fact supporting the illegal theft of broadcast rights and undermining the sports rights market globally.
“What we find most remarkable is that since its inception, beoutQ has stolen a significant number of your Serie A matches and your intellectual property. So, while Mr Micciche (Serie A president) in his recent statements has said that the match in Jeddah will promote ‘Made in Italy’ and its values, the match in fact serves merely as a promotion of ‘Stolen by Saudi Arabia’; and the endorsement of a flagrant daily breach of international norms and the rule of law,” he said.
“Of all the countries in the world that you could have chosen to host your game, you have chosen the one country that is State-supporting the theft of your content on an industrial scale and being investigated by the World Trade Organisation on those charges. What is perhaps most alarming of all: – you are fully aware of all this context.”
In what has been the most aggressive condemnation of the Italians’ flagrant disregard for globally accepted broadcast rights practices to date, he says: “If the game goes ahead, Serie A will have failed to uphold its duty to its member clubs and the wider sporting community, including other major international leagues whose intellectual property rights, and revenue streams, are threatened by beoutQ’s actions.”
In requesting Serie A to do “the right thing”, Al-Obaidly makes three rquests that Serie A:
“1. Joins the collective legal action in Saudi Arabia that is shortly to be issued by FIFA, —–/
and the AFC in relation to the beoutQ service and the ongoing Infringement of their media rights. We can provide you and/or your legal team with contact details, if required, for the lawyers at the firm · · who are managing the claim on behalf of all – football rights-holders.
“2. Issues a public statement ahead of the Super Cup match specifically calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to take immediate steps to bring the devastating beoutQ piracy operation to an end.
“3. Again reconsiders whether it is appropriate to proceed with the Super Cup match in Jeddah when other options remain available even at this late stage.”
Serie A has fallen well behind Europe’s other big leagues in terms of international revenues, but in the past couple of seasons Italian clubs have worked hard to rebuild that position. That work looks like unravelling with what looks like a politically rather than financially motivated decision to play the Super Cup in Saudi.
What was always going to be a risky and controversial decision now looks like becoming a financial disaster for the Italian league and its clubs if football’s stakeholders turn their backs and money to other opportunities – and in football there are plenty.
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