BeIN Sports, part of Doha-Based TV giant BeIN Media Group, has written to the Premier League, the governing body of English soccer, to protest the impending takeover of Newcastle United by a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The $370M deal to acquire the club from British businessman Mike Ashley has never been officially announced but it has been widely reported that terms are agreed and the paperwork has now been submitted to the league, which will now run a ‘fit and proper person’s test’ to ratify the new owners. The consortium is being headed up by Brit businesswoman Amanda Staveley and also includes the Reuben Brothers, the UK’s second richest family; the Saudi fund is said to be providing 80% of the money.
BeIN’s complaint, penned in a letter today to Premier League chief exec Richard Masters as well as a separate notice to the chief execs of all 19 clubs (excluding Newcastle), centers around claims that Saudi Arabian pay TV network beoutQ has been illegally showing soccer matches in the country via pirate feeds. BeIN owns the rights to show Premier League in the region, paying nearly $500M for a three-year contract with the Premier League.
Saudi Arabia broadcaster Arabsat, which has been accused of facilitating the piracy via its satellite feeds, denies any illegal activity.
In today’s statement, first reported by The Times, BeIN chief executive Yousef al-Obaidly (who sits on the board of French club Paris Saint-Germain) alleges that the matter is particularly pressing given the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on sports revenues. “Given the crippling economic effect that coronavirus is having on the sports industry, this is all happening at a time when football clubs need to protect their broadcast revenue the most,” wrote al-Obaidly.
BeIN said its concern is purely regarding the piracy issue. In response, there have been suggestions that increased Saudi Arabian involvement in the Premier League could lead to the country’s state-backed entities making a bid for Middle East rights to the famously lucrative Premier League, rivalling BeIN.
A separate letter written to Richard Masters about the proposed takeover came from human rights org Amnesty International. “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community,” said Amnesty UK director Kate Allen, as reported by the BBC.