Saudi Sports Company wins AFC media rights in regional new deal

By Paul Nicholson

April 6 – The bitter conflict over broadcast rights and piracy in Saudi Arabia has seen the first regional resolution with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announcing an exclusive agreement with the Saudi Sports Company for the media rights to all its competitions for the 2021-2024 commercial cycle.

The deal includes the AFC Asian Qualifiers for the World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 as well as the AFC Champions League which kicks off tomorrow and in which Saudi Arabia is hosting three of the centralised group stages.

Broadcast rights in the region have been at the centre of a two-year row between Saudi Arabia and Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports who held the rights for the country but were banned from broadcasting to the kingdom and saw their signals pirated by the beoutQ satellite chaanel.

The issue was caught up in, and became one of the focal points of the ‘soft’ geo-politics between the two countries surrounding the Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar.

The AFC overcame the broadcast rights situation by broadcasting their own competitions to Saudi Arabia via their own channels. Now the AFC, via the Saudi Sports Company, has found a legitimate paying partner for those rights.

The Saudi Sports Company will begin televising competitions via its GSA over-the-top (OTT) live platform service before broadcasting via satellite on tv channels in the last quarter of 2021.

Founded by sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi Sports Company is intended to be the main Saudi platform for content development and managing TV rights. Generally sports rights had been packaged for the region with beIN Sports having become the big buyer. The Saudi rights are now being unbundled for AFC competitions and other leagues could follow, though prices are very unlikely to match those that were being paid by beIN Sports for regional rights and who have already said that the beoutQ piracy had crippled the market.

Saudi Arabia has made the development of sports a key pillar of its ‘Vision 2030’ for the country, with media and sports rights important within that plan.

Dato’ Windsor John, the AFC General Secretary said: “This is an extremely significant moment for the AFC as Saudi Arabia have long been one of the strongest football nations not only in the Gulf and Middle East but also in Asia.

“Now, this agreement will provide the millions of passionate and committed football fans in Saudi Arabia with the most comprehensive access to, and best coverage of, Asia’s best and most valued football competitions.

“We are grateful to the Saudi Sports Company for their confidence and investment in Asian football and we look forward to working with them in further developing and growing the interest in our world-class competitions.”

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