Serie A warned BeIN's $500m deal at risk if Supercoppa played in Saudi Arabia
By Jonathan Rest
BeIN Media Group, the Qatar-based, international pay-television broadcaster, has told Sportcal it is considering ending its $500-million outlay on Italian soccer if Serie A does not reconsider its decision to play next month's Supercoppa in Saudi Arabia.
BeIN holds rights to Serie A for the 2018-19 to 2020-21 cycle in 36 territories, including France, Spain, Turkey, Australia and the Middle East and North Africa, paying around €155 million ($170 million) per season for the privilege, in a deal with the IMG agency.
That equates to around 55 per cent of Serie A's international media rights revenue, which BeIN said is on the line from the next cycle because of the league's contract to play the Supercoppa, the annual match between the winners of Serie A and the Coppa Italia, in Saudi Arabia.
BeIN is banned from operating in the Kingdom because of a long-running diplomatic dispute with Qatar, while Saudi Arabia has been accused of harbouring beoutQ, the piracy network that has been stealing BeIN's premium sports content, including the Italian top flight.
Indeed, in October, Serie A was one of eight major soccer bodies to declare that the Saudi Arabia-based satellite provider Arabsat has been distributing beoutQ.
In a statement, BeIN told Sportcal today: "BeIN is actively reconsidering its entire commercial relationship with Serie A following the league's decision to go ahead with its Super Cup match next month in Saudi Arabia, the country responsible for the mass theft of the league’s premium sports rights for over two years.
"It is astonishing that the league has decided to press ahead despite all the evidence of the damage that has been done to the league's business by beoutQ, Saudi’s pirate operation. It is remarkable what Serie A is seemingly prepared to jeopardise – not only all the financial revenues from one of its biggest broadcaster partners, but also the exposure BeIN gives to the league in markets all around the world, from Europe to Asia and all across the Middle East and North Africa.
"Serie A’s leadership is putting at risk all of this, in favour of making a quick buck from the very entity that has been stealing its rights for two years."
Juventus and Lazio are set to meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh on 22 December. It will be the second match in a €21-million deal between Serie A and the ministry of sports in the Middle East country to stage three editions of the contest there over a five-year period.
Before the first match this January, between Juventus and AC Milan, BeIN chief executive Yousef Al-Obaidly wrote to the league on several occasions in a bid to block the game taking place in the “piracy-supporting” country.BeIN has form for sticking to its threats, having decided against renewing its Formula 1 motor racing contract covering MENA at the turn of this year.
It told Sportcal at the time: "Formula 1 continues to turn a blind eye (to the theft of sports rights). This is not only commercially self-harming given the broadcast feeds of Formula 1’s global broadcast partners – including Sky, ESPN, Fox and Channel 4 – are widely available for free on beoutQ’s IPTV function; but it is also remarkably short-sighted given every day that beoutQ exists, Formula 1’s rights are worth less.
"Illegal broadcast piracy is the biggest threat to the sports and entertainment industry and Saudi Arabia’s beoutQ is pouring petrol on the problem. Most sports organisations are trying to do something about this epidemic; Formula 1 is only encouraging it."
On the domestic front, the 20 Serie A clubs were supposed to decide on Mediapro's proposal to launch and operate an in-house TV channel in the new cycle yesterday, but once again this has been delayed, this time until 16 December.
The Spanish media rights and production agency submitted its final offer, complete with enhanced guarantees, to Serie A - €1.283 billion per season for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 cycle - on 4 November.
A vote of the clubs was postponed three times last month.
Italian news agency Ansa reported that 10 clubs voted in favour of the Mediapro plan, six voted against, three abstained and one was absent. A two-thirds majority is needed to approve the plan.
Inter Milan and AC Milan are understood to have rejected the deal, as did Roma, while perennial champions Juventus, Fiorentina and Napoli abstained.
Luigi de Siervo, chief executive of Serie A, who has been leading the negotiations with Mediapro, said: "It was a long discussion and at the end it was decided that a series of modifications are needed to the text [of the proposal], which is already considered by most of the clubs to be very good. It must be improved in certain aspects so we have given ourselves until December 16."
Mediapro's financial guarantees once again remain the sticking point.
Mediapro's offer is a basic €1.15 billion per season for the rights, plus €78 million in production costs and €55 million for copyright issues.
Domestic Serie A rights are presently held by pay-TV's Sky and over-the-top streaming service DAZN in three-year deals worth €973 million per season that came into effect at the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
Serie A must still offer its TV rights through a public tender as stipulated by the Melandri Law, which governs the league’s collective selling of rights, and both Sky and DAZN now know they must at least match the €1.15 billion per season offered by Mediapro if they wish to retain the rights.Sportcal