Qatar's BeIN Sports Caught In Country's Feud With Middle Eastern Neighbors
BeIN Sports has "poured billions of dollars into securing rights to major events," notably in football, in recent years, according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. But over the last three months, it has "become entangled in a bitter diplomatic crisis" in which several Arabic-speaking countries, led by Saudi Arabia, severed relations with Qatar. For beIN, which is financed by the Qatari government, the fallout is "starting to affect business" across the Middle East and Africa, "where it has millions of sports-loving subscribers." Viewers in the UAE "had their signals blocked for six weeks before the authorities there recently reinstated the channel." BeIN reporters have been "harassed at stadiums, or removed from them to face stern questioning by the police." In Saudi Arabia, vendors selling beIN Sports "have been shut down, and marketing activities promoting the company are no longer allowed." BeIN Media Group general counsel Sophie Jordan said, "There are so many different levels to this issue. This is unprecedented." More recently, the obstacles have "become so contentious" that sports rights agency Lagardère Sports was "forced to step in to ensure crucial World Cup qualification games and Asian Champions League matches could be broadcast in countries in which beIN owns their rights." Jordan: "Every single obstacle to prevent the commercialization of beIN channels has been put in place by the Saudi authorities." BeIN has "grown to become a major plank of Qatar’s efforts to use sports to brand itself as a global and regional power," and the company has committed billions of dollars to buy rights to the most popular football competitions, including the Champions League, La Liga and the Premier League (N.Y. TIMES, 9/11).