Qatar-based beIN Sports – current rights holders for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – have written to the Premier League urging chief executive Richard Masters to block the £300million deal for Newcastle, citing illegal streaming of top-flight matches in Saudi Arabia.
Former Sky Sports presenter and beIN host Richard Keys has been particularly vocal in his opposition to the takeover, which is being funded by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
Newcastle are close to being taken over by the Saudi state, who will soon target TV rights
The takeover is backed by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, led by Prince Mohamed bin Salman
However, sources with Saudi connections suspect that beIN’s decision to lobby the League as well its 19 other clubs is motivated by the fear of losing their own deal, which cost £500m for three years and expires in 2022.
‘This is a longstanding conflict between Qatar and Saudi and is very political. It is motivated by money and status,’ said the source. ‘BeIN will be worried about the arrival of the Saudi state as Premier League owners.
‘The Premier League and Champions League are huge in Saudi and, for the Premier League, it is an untapped market in terms of commercial gain.
beIn Sports oppose the deal amid fears that the state could soon outbid them for TV rights
‘If the Newcastle takeover goes through as expected then Saudi will start preparing to buy the Premier League TV rights. It is an open tender process that is due to start next year and they have the financial power to outbid Qatar.
‘The Premier League are going to find other foreign broadcasters wanting reduced deals post coronavirus and Saudi is the perfect opportunity to make up a large portion of that shortfall.’
The takeover of Newcastle is awaiting Premier League approval with sources close to the deal anticipating no complications, despite opposition from Amnesty International as well as beIN.
Keys, who anchors beIN’s Premier League coverage, said: ‘This is about beIN Sports – the legitimate holders of Premier League rights in MENA – and beoutQ – a Saudi-owned pirate operator, that has been stealing the intellectual rights of the legal owner for the last three years.
Former Sky Sports hosts Richard Keys, left, and Andy Gray, right, currently front the coverage
Keys is concerned about the previous illegal streaming of televised games in Saudi Arabia
‘In fairness to the Premier League, they’ve been more active in trying to shut down the Saudi pirate operation than any other sports rights body. Nine times they’ve tried to employ legal companies in Saudi to sue on their behalf. Nine different companies have backed away from the job.’
Keys added: ‘The obvious conclusion is that sports rights become worthless and sport dies.’
The Saudi government has denied that it is behind the illegal streaming via beoutQ.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed on Tuesday that Nasser al-Khelaifi, chairman of beIN and president of Paris Saint-Germain, will stand trial in a Swiss court in September alongside FIFA’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke as part of a corruption case linked to the attribution of broadcasting rights.