When it comes to sports broadcasting, you might say the UAE has lucked out with its time zone. It is four hours ahead of London, nine hours ahead of New York and four hours behind Beijing. “Around 2.2 billion people across Asia, Europe and Africa live in the four time zones either side of Dubai, making it ideally situated to capture a global television audience,” Deloitte’s Economic Impact of Sport in Dubai report states.
How does this benefit the sports events themselves? Take the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as an example. Last year matches from the tournament were shown by 120 broadcasters to a global audience of 400 million. The DP World Tour Championship golf event was shown live for 1,220 hours by 51 broadcasters to a global audience of 458 million households. The Dubai Rugby Sevens was broadcast for 593 hours across 359 million households in 145 countries.
BeIN Sports has taken a dominant position in the region’s sports media landscape in recent years, but when it comes to pay-television broadcasts, there is competition from Dubaibased Orbit Showtime Network (OSN) and Abu Dhabi Media. Telecommunications operators Etisalat (in Abu Dhabi) and Du (in Dubai, formerly known as Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company) also offer paytelevision sport, and Dubai-based Icflix offers streaming and video-on-demand sport.
The emergence of beIN Sports has driven up rights fees in the UAE to “high prices, given the relatively small numbers of legitimate paytelevision subscribers,” according to Callum McCarthy from TV Sports Markets, a sister publication of SportBusiness International. BeIN currently pays just over $110m per season for English Premier League rights.
“Much of the competition has stemmed from beIN and Abu Dhabi Media beginning as ‘soft power’ projects for their respective state’s investment arms,” McCarthy adds. “Now, both companies recognise that the amounts of money involved are serious and are embarking on serious business ventures. The competition between the two has died down recently and beIN has almost every premium sports property on the market.”
Many UAE households receive some form of satellite TV, although there are serious problems with broadcast piracy. Steve Bainbridge is head of sports law at Al Tamimi & Co – a law firm that has offices across the Middle East – and used to work in a legal capacity for Yas Marina Circuit, home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “In the UAE, broadcasting piracy has shown a marked increase over the past couple of years,” he said, pointing out that the country’s licensed TV retailers are losing 40 per cent of business thanks to illegal decoders and satellite dishes. It is estimated that more than a million illegal settop boxes enter the Gulf Cooperation Council region every year.
Bainbridge offered a grim prediction. “Unchecked, the numbers suggest it can only be a matter of time before piracy forces some traditional broadcasters from their markets by compromising their ability to monetise the rights they have paid legitimate licence fees for. Perhaps more concerning for a developing market like the UAE is the spectre of piracy potentially dissuading legitimate rights-holders from entering the market for fear of uphill competition against illegal activity,” he said.
Sports viewing on online and mobile devices is a nascent but growing sector in the UAE. According to the website Internet World Stats, there are 4.51 million internet users across the entire population of 5.47 million UAE nationals, constituting an internet penetration of 83 per cent. Among these there are 4.4 million Facebook users and 13.76 million active mobile phone subscriptions. Digital consumer experts GlobalWebIndex claim that UAE citizens spend just under three hours per day using mobile internet platforms. Ninety-three per cent use Facebook, 73 per cent use Google Plus, 64 per cent use Twitter, 49 per cent use LinkedIn and 26 per cent use Instagram.
Faber said that mobile phone and broadband infrastructure is mostly excellent across UAE cities. “All the latest devices work here,” he said. “When it comes to bandwidth and 4G technology, it’s probably comparable to a lot of Western nations.” Faber added that Emiratis are focused on consumerism and are fast adopters of new technology, ensuring that the latest mobile phones leap off the shop shelves.
Sports content is popular across UAE social media, just as it is across Western social media. One unique aspect of UAE social media is the power of the ruling families, government ministers and other establishment figures to make content go viral. Their influence is akin to that of sports and entertainment celebrities in the West.
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