BeIN Sports walks away from renewal talks with Bundesliga

Qatar-based Middle East broadcaster blamed piracy as primary factor for pulling out of negotiations for new 5-year deal.

Bundesliga - Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen
Bundesliga kicks off a new season on Friday with Bayern Munich's match with Schalke [File: Stuart Franklin/Pool via Reuters]

The Middle East broadcaster of German top-flight soccer walked away from contract renewal talks hours before the new season kicks off.

Qatar-based BeIN Sports told the Bundesliga Friday it was pulling out of the negotiations on a new five-year deal, blaming piracy as the primary factor.

“Our business plan is clear. We will only bid for rights at levels that make economic sense and have a value proposition,” Richard Verow, chief sports officer at BeIN, said in a statement. “Piracy has crippled the market so we have made the decision not to renew with Bundesliga there.”

The company had paid 200 million euros ($237 million) in the previous five-year deal and has been showing Bundesliga games live in 24 countries in the region. The new season begins on Friday evening with Bayern Munich’s match with Schalke.

A spokesman for the German league declined to comment.

BeIN has blamed Qatar’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, with whom it has a political and economic dispute, for supporting a rival broadcaster that it says took BeIN content illegally and sold it on to viewers who would otherwise be paying BeIN for the service. The Saudi government denies the allegation.

After lobbying governments and international sporting bodies to help it scuttle the rival operation, BeIN has turned to more direct action in recent months. It pulled a contract to show Formula One motor racing and briefly dropped coverage of Italian soccer after disputing the price of the broadcast rights.

During a failed bid for English club Newcastle United by a consortium headed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, BeIN wrote to all the Premier League’s 20 clubs, warning them not to throw their support behind the Saudis.

BeIN and the Bundesliga still have contracts with each other in France and the Asia-Pacific region.

It isn’t only piracy that’s been putting downward pressure on rights fees for soccer, Europe’s most valuable broadcast sport. The Premier League made sizable rebates to broadcasters when it restarted the season after lockdown, as did other leagues. The broadcasters argued that the matches they showed – many of them played in empty stadiums – were not equal to the ones they had contracted to broadcast.

The Premier League recently lost its most lucrative overseas contract, in China, after a disagreement over rights fees and discounts. It replaced it with a one-year deal with Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.

However, European soccer is still attractive to many overseas investors. Italian team Parma said on Thursday it had agreed to be bought by the American Krause family. That follows U.S. purchases of French club Toulouse and Italy’s Roma.

(Updates to add detail on BeIN’s campaign against bootleg broadcast outfit from sixth paragraph)

Source: Bloomberg