By Paul Nicholson
July 31 – Football’s most powerful governing bodies and rights holders have issued the largest combined statement to date condemning the theft of their broadcast rights by pirate broadcaster beoutQ and “requesting” the Saudi Arabian (KSA) government to immediately take “swift and decisive” action.
The joint statement by FIFA, the AFC, UEFA, the Bundesliga, LaLiga, the Premier League and Lega Serie A signifies the biggest group effort to date and a growing frustration amongst rights owners regarding the piracy of their events that they say is being done on an “industrial scale”.
Their statement also highlights the commercial danger to the funding of major football and big sport in general which depends heavily on broadcast relationships for its top tier funding. Broadcasters worldwide are already questioning rights fees levels worldwide and cutting budgets as a result of the piracy.
It marks a new phase in the battle against beoutQ – and now the Saudi authorities – which has moved away from being a localised dispute between broadcasters and territories (Qatar’s beIN Sport vs Saudi’s beoutQ) into the rights owner arena and the growing need for rights holders to quickly assure the TV business that they will protect the content they pay for against copyright theft wherever it takes place in the world.
The statement says the piracy “harms every aspect of the industry, from the rights holders to legitimate licensees, consumers and fans, participants (including players, clubs and national teams) and ultimately, the sport itself.”
Although not directly condemning the Saudi government, the statement as good as pillories them as bad actors in their support of beoutQ. The statement points out that the rights owners – having verified that beoutQ is using at least one KSA company to distribute their signal – have tried nine time to instruct legal counsel in the country only to have been refused representation or to have the legal counsel recuse themselves.
“As copyright holders we have reached the conclusion, regrettably, that it is now not possible to retain legal counsel in KSA which is willing or able to act on our behalf in filing a copyright complaint against beoutQ. We feel we have now exhausted all reasonable options for pursuing a formal copyright claim in KSA and see no alternative but to pursue beoutQ and a solution to this very serious problem of piracy by other means,” says the statement.
beoutQ’s piracy has now reached such a scale that both the US and UK governments have officially made representations to the KSA regarding the protection of their broadcast and creative industries. It is the first step of a political solution that could conceivably lead to the demand for sanctions against Saudi Arabia that are wider
For the KSA to resolve the situation it is now not simply a case of turning off the Arabsat satellite signal as the beoutQ boxes have IPTV apps embedded that will still enable signals and channels to be pirated. And those channels being pirated are pretty much every major North American and European TV channel as well as services like Netflix. It has become a game on a much bigger playing field than just football.
So what next for football’s rights owners having exhausted all “reasonable options”? That implies that the only course of action would appear to be “unreasonable options” in the areas that football can legislate. The most extreme of these would be the suspension of all Saudi Arabian participation in regional and global competition at club and national team level.
That would be a test of governing body statutes but it may be the only way football can protect its broadcast revenue base and regain the rapidly diminishing trust of its broadcast buyers.
And as for the geo-political implications, that would be a major coup for the Qataris in their regional struggle against the Saudi Arabian blockade.
It is also looking increasingly like the only option for football to protect its core income streams.
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