By Paul Nicholson
October 7 – The decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a four-year ban on Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports could remove a key impediment in the way of the Saudis taking ownership of Newcastle United.
In 2017 Saudi Arabia declared broadcast of the beIN channels illegal as part of the country’s blockade of Qatar in what became a disruptive and bitter dispute that spilled over into the live sports broadcast business. beIN Sports was the region’s biggest buyer of live broadcast rights for its pan-regional channels but was excluded from the region’s biggest market of close to 40 million people.
Not only did the Saudis outlaw the channel but they also encouraged satellite distributed BeoutQ to pirate beIN’s channels into the country, effectively sanctioning industrial scale theft of rights that had not been acquired.
It created chaos in the sports rights market as rights owners, including the Premier League. LaLiga and UEFA, issued threats and attempted legal action in Saudi Arabia to stop the state-sanctioned theft and to protect their own broadcast revenues.
When Saudi Arabia then attempted to acquire Newcastle United, beIN protested to the Premier League arguing that allowing the acquisition would in effect be condoning the action of the state. Putting it into a financial perspective, the Premier League earned more from beIN in a single three-year rights cycle than the £300-350 million Mike Ashley will earn from the sale of Newcastle United.
beIN’s recently renewed rights deal for the MENA region for the Premier League cycle through to 2025 is for a reported $500 million. The only Premier League club to vote against it was Newcastle United.
With beIN Sport and the Saudis finding a new and loving relationship, beIN’s objections to the Saudi acquisition of Newcastle United will similarly be expected to be dropped. Indeed such is the new symbiotic relationship beIN could quite likely encourage the acquisition as a Saudi-owned club will likely be good for their pay-tv business in the country.
As well as lifting the broadcast ban on BeoutQ, the Saudis have also turned off the BeoutQ piracy as well as removing all pirate websites when informed. Sources say that there also moves to settle a $1 billion arbitration case for damages brought by beIN. That arbitration will be held in London.
“We have been informed that Saudi Arabia’s 4.5 year illegal ban on beIN SPORTS is going to be reversed soon,” said a beIN Media Group statement, adding that “We have also been approached by Saudi for them to settle our legal cases, including our $1bn investment arbitration.”
With relations between the two countries thawing politically, the rapprochement has now reached cafes and restaurants in the Saudi capital Riyadh which have already started using satellite dishes to show games on beIN Sports channels.
And if that wasn’t enough to consummate the new found love, Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain will play friendlies against players from two top Saudi clubs in Riyadh next year.
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