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DCMS piracy session could impede Newcastle’s £300m Saudi takeover

Newcastle United club crest shown on a home shirt on April 27, 2020 (Photo by Visionhaus)

The proposed £300m (€339m/$366.4m) takeover of Newcastle United by a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund faces further delays as calls were made for the UK’s Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to hold an evidence session on piracy of sport including Premier League football.

Conservative MP Giles Watling, a member of the DCMS Committee, has called for the body to look at Saudi-based piracy as the proposed sale of the Premier League club by UK-based sports retail billionaire Mike Ashley continues to be the subject of intense scrutiny.

The takeover has been vehemently challenged by the Qatar-based pay-television broadcaster beIN Media Group, with whom the Premier League holds one of its most lucrative international broadcast deals.

In an email to the DCMS Committee cited by The Times today (Thursday), Watling said that an evidence session is “even more relevant now” within the context of the likely takeover by a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s PIF.

He wrote: “This investment fund is backed by the same entity that backs beoutQ – Saudi Arabia – and is particularly pressing as the government refused to comment on the takeover to the Committee recently.”

The move came as it emerged that the Liberal Democrats were set to call for the sale to be blocked and as Karl McCartney, another Conservative MP and the chairman of the UK Parliamentary Football Club, expressed his opposition to the Saudi-backed takeover.

The Premier League, which 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, has tasked its lawyers with studying the would-be takeover. Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has denied that its frequencies are used by beoutQ to illegally stream content.

The Riyadh-based Saudi PIF is looking to secure 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.

Watling questioned in his email “whether the UK government, by allowing the sale to take place, is taking appropriate action in this instance to protect the value of UK sport, which is both a cultural and commercial asset to the country?”

He continued: “I am writing to request that the Committee holds an oral evidence session on the theft of UK sport by the Saudi-based pirate operation beoutQ, which has been stealing and broadcasting every major UK sporting competition for almost three years, including the Premier League. Ideally, this should be with the Secretary of State and representatives from the Premier League.”

The United States Trade Representative office, the government organisation responsible for advising US trade policy, recently kept Saudi Arabia on its priority watchlist for what it sees as a failure to address “long-standing IP concerns”.

The beoutQ piracy was discussed during a DCMS Committee session 12 months ago.

Yousef al-Obaidly, the beIN Media Group chief executive, recently wrote to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and the chairmen of the respective clubs, urging the league to consider blocking the proposed takeover. The broadcaster’s letter to Premier League chairmen informed 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.

Newcastle has been owned by Ashley since 2007.