AFC denies it has cancelled beIN’s TV deal, as rights battle over Saudi rages on

By Paul Nicholson

May 14 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has said that it has not cancelled its TV rights agreement with beIN Sports and that the broadcaster, it said in a statement, “remains a valued commercial partner of the AFC”.

The AFC has however retendered the broadcast rights agreement for Saudi Arabia for the 2021-24 period. The rights are for the next cycle of AFC national team and club competitions and are currently held by the Qatar-based beIN as part of a pan-regional deal.

beIN has been the biggest victim of the BeoutQ broadcast piracy as it has struggled, and failed, to maintain broadcast distribution of its channels in Saudi Arabia, a consequence of the economic blockade of Qatar by the Saudis. While recognised universally as a pirate broadcaster, BeoutQ has effectively been given carte blanche to steal and distribute content within the country by the Saudi authorities, and charge a subscription fee.

For beIN Sport the problem is that they are not recognised as a legal broadcaster in Saudi Arabia. This has forced the AFC to seek other broadcast remedies, arguing that it has a duty to deliver a legal broadcast to promote the competition in Saudi Arabia.

“The AFC has been working with its partners and other stakeholders to manage the effects of recent rulings of the regulatory authorities in Saudi Arabia which have cancelled the licence of beIN Sports to operate television services in Saudi Arabia,” said the AFC statement.

“The AFC has a statutory mandate and mission to ensure that football and its competitions are promoted throughout Asia. To this end, the AFC has engaged in consultations to mitigate the effects of the present lack of lawfully available coverage of its matches in Saudi Arabia.”

One short term solution has been to broadcast matches into Saudi Arabia on the AFC’s digital and social media channels, ensuring “fans in Saudi Arabia are able to watch coverage of their teams on a service that is currently lawfully available, whilst the issues between the Saudi Arabian authorities and beIN Sports remain unresolved.”

The rights retender “follows the AFC and beIN Sports being unable to agree terms for a renewal of the current pan-regional agreement beyond the current term.”

In response beIN has accused the AFC of breaching its broadcast contract, devaluing its business and similarly sports media rights in the region.

beIN had a matching right on any bid for the AFC competitions, but even if exercised it would still not be able to broadcast in Saudi Arabia as a banned channel. That right hasn’t been exercised with beIN preferring to pursue legal channels to “claim every dollar of damages we have and will incur as a result of the AFC’s unilateral breach of our agreement”.

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