Middle East football fans face missing the kick-off to the English Premier League (EPL) football in August as negotiations over broadcast rights drag on, a Dubai-based TV operator has warned. Broadcast rights for the Middle East are still undecided, amid a deadlock over fees to air EPL games.
This means that – with just three months to go until the start of the next season – fans of teams such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have no idea how they will be able to watch the games in this region.
Regional television rights to EPL games were reportedly acquired in January by media broker MP & Silva, which plans to resell them to one or more broadcasters across 23 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).
But despite rumors to the contrary, MP & Silva is yet to strike a deal – and the rights allocation is now running into extra time.
Negotiations have been complicated by a backlash among regional broadcasters against the soaring cost of the rights, which fetched $360 million for the 2010-2013 seasons – a threefold increase on the previous three years.
That comes despite media speculation that the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Sports had won rights to carry the EPL games exclusively on its network.
Zouein played down fears that the late allocation of the rights would mean football fans would miss the start of the season.
He said MP & Silva was confident of striking a deal “at the right time”, and insisted that would leave enough time for successful bidders to finalize the broadcast logistics, along with the marketing and sale of EPL packages to consumers.
The executive confirmed that MP & Silva had “approached all potential broadcasters” in the region about the potential acquisition of the rights.
These include Abu Dhabi Media (ADM) – the current holder of the EPL broadcast rights – along with Al Jazeera and OSN.
Others include Dubai TV – which is owned by the government-run Dubai Media Incorporated – along with Sharjah TV, as well as networks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. “Our policy is to talk to everyone,” Zouein said.
OSN held the rights during the 2007-2010 seasons of the football tournament, for which it paid a reported $120 million.
The rights to the next three seasons were sold to Abu Dhabi-government owned ADM for almost $360 million, according to several industry sources with knowledge of the deal. That did not make for a profitable business given that ADM’s pay-TV subscriber base is below 350,000, according to several industry sources.
MP & Silva is said to have paid around $300 million for the rights, although Zouein said he did not know the exact figure.
That deal was part of a haul of global rights sales that is expected to bring the EPL a windfall of more than $7.9 billion for the 2013-2016 seasons.