By Paul Nicholson
February 8 – Mesut Ozil, no stranger to conflict and controversy in recent years, may not find Fenerbahce the calm and safe haven club he was looking for.
Club president Ali Koc has called on Fenerbahce fans to donate to the club to pay Ozil’s wage but that is a sideshow compared to the war Koc has been waging on beIN Sport, the Turkish SuperLig’s $370 million a season broadcast.
Koc is accusing the broadcaster of manipulating VAR and deliberately choosing camera angles that show the club in an unadvantagous light.
So bitter has Koc’s campaign been against beIN that he has sanctions ‘beFAIR’ messaging on pitchside digital advertising boards during a home match with Rizespor. The club has also commissioned ‘beFAIR’ T-shirts and tracksuits, prevented beIN Sport media access – including to Ozil’s signing ceremony last week – and encouraged a fan-led campaign to boycott the channel.
Koc has stewarded Fenerbahce to a whopping $714 million debt and failed to win a title during his presidency (the club last won the Turkish league seven years ago). Rival club Besiktas have called on the Turkish FA and UEFA to investigate Fenerbahce’s (and other clubs) spending on transfers which they claim breaks financial fair play rules.
For his part Koc’s complaining is unlikely to help his own financial disaster or the SuperLig’s financial future.
The Turkish Football Federation has announced it will be launching a domestic rights tender at the end of the year. With pressure on broadcast rights markets, beIN Sport has already demonstrated that it has no problem in walking away from leagues where it feels it isn’t getting value or support for its business.
If beIN Sport were to walk away from the a Turkish bid the result could be financially calamitous for the league. beIN already decided last week not to bid for French league rights having been a 10-year broadcast partner.
beIN has denied it has interfered with VAR or deliberately manipulated camera angles at Fenerbahce games, and has tried to take the heat out of the more inflammatory comments.
Rashed Al-Marri, Executive Vice President of Sports Content, Digiturk / beIN SPORTS, said in late January: “In light of continuing comments and campaigns questioning beINSPORTS’ impartiality and attacking our staff, we would plead for calm and a de-escalation of this media assault, which harms every single stakeholder in Turkish football – including those making the comments…
The Turkish Football Federation has emphasised the importance of beIN Sport to their league with Chairman Nihat Ozdemir saying: ” We want to work with beIN Sports for many years. Our negotiations are also continuing. The broadcasting company has invested heavily in Turkish football and they want to continue the results of these investments. I hope our partnership will continue.”
beIN Sport have publicy said they want to continue but privately their frustration is at breaking point with Koc. “Despite the continuing unfounded attacks, we hope to establish a much better relationship with Fenerbahçe – one of the most deep-rooted and valuable communities of Turkish football – and all Super Lig clubs, based on mutual goodwill, trust and constructive feedback which is the foundation of every success sports league,” said Al-Marri.
Fenerbahce are joint top of the SuperLig but missed a chance to take a clear lead losing the all-important Istanbul derby to Galatasaray 1-0 at the weekend. Galatasary now lead the table on goal difference ahead of Besiktas and then Fenerbahce.
Koc is walking a reputational tightrope. Due for re-election this year, a league title would go a long way to helping him achieve that, and mask the $700 million+ debt. Failure to win the title, coupled with being blamed for the club’s debt and possibly the loss of the league’s biggest broadcast partner, would make Koc something of a pariah, with his own fans and within Turkish football generally.
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