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BeIN flags up Saudi’s IP and rights ‘theft’ in bid to block Newcastle takeover

Joelinton of Newcastle United in action during the Premier League match against Burnley (Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Yousef al-Obaidly, chief executive of Qatar-based pay-television broadcaster beIN Media Group, has written to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and the chairmen of the respective clubs, urging the league to consider blocking the proposed takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The Riyadh-based Saudi PIF is said to be close to securing an 80-per-cent stake in Newcastle as part of a consortium including Dubai-based financier Amanda Staveley and the billionaire Reuben brothers, David and Simon. Last week it was reported that an agreement laying out a deal had been submitted to the UK’s Companies House.

BeIN, with whom the Premier League holds one of its most lucrative international rights deals, has expressed its opposition to the deal. In its letter to Masters, the broadcaster has urged the league to “robustly apply” the Owners’ and Directors’ Test when assessing the proposed takeover.

BeIN’s letter to Premier League chairmen informs them of Saudi Arabia’s “theft of clubs’ intellectual property and commercial rights for nearly three years”.

BeIN Sports holds rights to the Premier League in the Middle East and North Africa region as part of a three-year deal covering the 2019-20 to 2021-22 seasons. BeIN has repeatedly condemned Saudi Arabia-based pirate channel beoutQ for what it claims is theft of a range of content – including its coverage of the Premier League.

The Premier League has in the past strongly condemned the piracy of its content by beoutQ and has been supportive of beIN in its fight against the channel. Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has denied that its frequencies are used by beoutQ to illegally stream content.

In his letter to Masters, Al-Obaidly said: “There appear to be several reasons why such an investigation is being called for by other parties; our request is purely based on Saudi Arabia’s past and present theft of your and your member clubs’ intellectual property rights.”

Al-Obaidly has asked the Premier League to take into account the direct role Saudi Arabia plays in the launch, promotion and operation of beoutQ; the challenge the Premier League has faced and will continue to face in taking any action to protect its own intellectual property rights in the country; and the league’s ability to enforce its own rules against Saudi Arabia-based persons or entities.

The letter to the clubs adds: “Not only has the potential acquirer of Newcastle United caused huge damage to your club’s and the Premier League’s commercial revenues; but the legacy of the illegal service will continue to impact you going forward.

“When the Premier League season re-commences in the coming months, all of the league’s broadcasters’ content will continue to be readily and illegally available via the IPTV streaming functionality on the beoutQ set-top-boxes which were sold in significant quantities in Saudi Arabia and the broader Mena region.

“Furthermore – given the crippling economic effect that coronavirus is having on the sports industry – this is all happening at a time when football clubs need to protect their broadcast revenue the most. Speaking as a board member of a leading European football club [Paris Saint-Germain], I know this acutely.”

The letter to clubs stresses that the request “in no way criticises or bears any reflection whatsoever on the Premier League office or their management”.

Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners are set to put in 20 per cent of the consideration in the takeover, with 10 per cent of the funds coming from Staveley personally and the remainder from the Reubens, who are British property investors.

Newcastle has been owned by UK-based sports retail billionaire Mike Ashley since 2007.

The proposed takeover of Newcastle has also been criticised by Amnesty International. The human rights group has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s stance on women’s rights, the LGBT community and the restriction of free speech.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty UK, wrote in a letter to Masters that was reported by the BBC. She wrote: “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community.”