First Published: 2017-08-13

Arab countries move to tackle the Qatari monopoly of sports’ broadcast
'We know we will face tough challenges to end these monopolies but we are more than capable of doing this,' Seif Zaher, ONTV board of directors member.
Middle East Online

By Ibrahim Ouf - CAIRO

The diplomatic crisis with Doha has seen several Arab countries block Qa­tari satellite channels, in­cluding the popular beIN Sports network. Egypt’s free-to-air ONTV network, which recently ac­quired exclusive rights to broadcast Egyptian Premier League and Egypt Cup football matches, said the time was ripe to expand and take over coverage of regional and interna­tional sports.

“It is about time this monopoly [by beIN Sports] came to an end,” said Seif Zaher, a member of the ONTV board of directors. “I think some real steps are now being taken to end this monopoly.”

Doha-based beIN Sports, a succes­sor to the Al Jazeera Sports network, has been a mainstay in the homes of many football-loving Arabs. Charg­ing viewers $18 a month for a sub­scription has allowed beIN to secure exclusive broadcasting rights in the Arab Middle East for major football leagues, including the English Pre­mier League, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A and the German Bundesliga. This has secured the networks’ popularity.

However, the political dispute be­tween Qatar and Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in June opened the door for other Arab networks to chal­lenge beIN’s stranglehold on sports broadcasts. Doha, which stands ac­cused of financing terrorism, paid hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire exclusive broadcast rights in the Middle East but, given the deci­sion to block broadcasts from Qatar, subscribers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are unable to watch the games.

“I think the crisis over Qatar’s fi­nancing of terrorism should moti­vate other Arab countries into pre­senting alternatives to beIN to end its domination,” said Egyptian sports commentator Essam Shaltout.

There are signs that Saudi, Egyp­tian and Emirate broadcast net­works are seeking to do just that.

Saudi Arabia blocked beIN on June 12. A few days later, Saudi Me­dia City Chairman Muflih al-Hafatah released a plan for the launch of PBS Sports, which he said would be the “largest” sports TV network in the Arab world. He reassured viewers that PBS Sports would seek to be a free-to-air channel, not a paid sub­scription service like beIN.

The new network would be oper­ated by professionals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Iraq, Bah­rain, Algeria, Morocco and Libya, Hafatah said.

In the UAE, similar moves have been made to end Qatar’s strangle­hold on sports broadcasting. Abu Dhabi is expected to demand broad­cast rights of the FIFA Club World Cup matches in the Emirates in De­cember, Emirati media reported.

It will also move to prevent the Qatari pay operator from purchasing broadcast rights to the AFC Asian Cup, to take place in 2019 in the UAE.

Egyptian officials have taken con­crete action by snatching sports competitions’ broadcast rights from the Qataris. The owner of ONTV net­work, steel production baron Ahmed Abu Hashima, pur­chased 51% of a major me­dia agency that will look to secure the rights to broadcast international sports events.

In September 2016, the agency, called Presentation Sports, allocated $750 mil­lion and raised an­other $450 million to purchase the broadcast rights of the African Cup of Nations through 2028.

However, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) selected French sports and entertainment agency La­gardere Sports, which has previ­ously sold the broadcast rights to beIN, but whose bid was $200 mil­lion below the Egyptian company’s. Presentation Sports was considering legal proceedings against then-CAF President Issa Hayatou, alleging cor­ruption for rejecting the Egyptian company’s higher bid.

Presentation Sports is expected later this year to seek broadcasting rights for Italy’s Serie A football, having already secured the broad­cast rights to the Arab Club Cham­pionship, which concluded August 2 in the Egyptian coastal city of Al­exandria.

The agency allocated the broad­cast rights of the championship to ONTV Sport and Abu Dhabi Sports, both free-to-air channels. The two channels signed a cooperation agreement in November for the free exchange of programmes.

Zaher said the efforts by Egyptian, Saudi and Emirate networks were a promising start to ending beIN’s monopolisation of sports broadcasts in the Arab world.

“We know we will face tough challenges to end these monopolies but we are more than capable of doing this,” Zaher said. “One network cannot be left to be the only window through which hundreds of millions of people see sports events. This must end.”

Ibrahim Ouf is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Students in Damascus brave shelling to attend school

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant

Morocco arrests three suspected IS terrorists

Family of dead environmentalist in Iran threatened

Israel hands life sentence to Palestinian for triple murder

US appeals to Turkey to concentrate on fighting IS

Turkey sets up new 'observation point' in Syria's Idlib

Malaysia rejects criticism over Israeli visit

Tillerson in Ankara to ease Turkey tensions

Egypt arrests ex-presidential candidate

Tillerson: Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's 'political process'

Netanyahu says government ‘stable’ despite police recommending indictment

Corruption accusations facing Netanyahu

Syria denies ‘unacceptable’ chemical weapons use

Nations pledge nearly $25 billion toward Iraq's reconstruction

Egypt remands in custody former anti-corruption chief