BeIN Sports’ full email to Premier League clubs to stop Newcastle United takeover bid

BeIN Sports chief executive Yousef Al-Obaidly has written to Premier League clubs urging them to block the potential takeover of Newcastle United.

The Magpies’ proposed takeover moved a step closer last week after Mike Ashley entered into a £300m agreement with a consortium led by American businesswoman Amanda Staveley, and backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, who will bankroll the operation and own 80% of the club.

However, in a blow to Newcastle, The Times has revealed Qatar-based television channel beIN has asked the Premier League to block the potential takeover, accusing Saudi Arabia of playing their part in pirate broadcasts of matches.

Here is the full transcript of the email sent to the 19 clubs, as reported by The Mirror.

“I am writing to you as the Chief Executive of beIN MEDIA GROUP, one of the Premier League’s largest worldwide broadcast partners and, consequently, one of the largest investors in English football.

“Over recent days, media are reporting on the potential acquisition of a Premier League club – Newcastle United Football Club – by a group backed by the Saudi Arabia government via its Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund ( KSA PIF ). In light of the Saudi Arabia government’s facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights – and in turn your club’s commercial revenues – through its backing of the huge scale beoutQ pirate service, I would strongly suggest that you fully interrogate this deal, and ask the Premier League to do the same, as a matter of urgency.

“The industrial-scale theft of the Premier League’s and its clubs’ intellectual property by Saudi Arabia is, sadly, now notorious. The Saudi operation called “beoutQ” has been the largest and most sophisticated sports piracy service ever seen. To recap on the operation originally exposed by The New York Times1 (see also Annex 3 – which includes the opinion of the UK Minister of State of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), the vast majority of the 380 live Premier League matches in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons were broadcast live and wholly illegally on the Saudi beoutQ channels and distributed via the Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, across both Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region.

“Throughout this period, beoutQ operated as a full-scale pay-TV business, transmitting 10 HD live sports channels via satellite and featuring a huge volume of live and delayed Premier League programming – see just one of many examples in Annex 1, where Newcastle United’s commercial rights are being stolen.

“Although the beoutQ branded channels themselves are no longer available, the huge number of beoutQ set-top-boxes now installed in Saudi Arabia and other MENA countries continue to facilitate access to 100s of other international sports channels through streaming IPTV apps, including the channels of the majority of worldwide Premier League broadcast licensees (including Sky Sports, BT Sport, NBC, ESPN, Canal+, NENT, DAZN and beIN SPORTS)2.

“Since the beginning, the Saudi Arabia government – the very acquirer of Newcastle United – has fully backed and facilitated the operation of the service. Its operation within Saudi Arabia has been indisputably and repeatedly recognised by the US Government3, the UK Government4, the European

“1 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/sports/bein-sports-qatar-beoutq.html 2 See screenshots of Premier League matches available on a range of Premier League broadcasters – all accessible via the beoutQ set-top-box IPTV functionality – in Annex 2

“3 See the US Government’s Special 301 Report which references Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the beoutQ service – https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2019_Special_301_Report.pdf

“4 See just one example of the UK Parliament’s discussions on beoutQ – http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport- committee/the-work-of-the-department-for-digital-culture-media-and-sport/oral/101924.html

Commission5 and every major football rights holder, including FIFA and UEFA6.

“The Premier League itself, along with other major football rights-holders, has tried everything to stop the Saudi service, including trying to instruct 9 different law firms in Saudi Arabia, each of which either simply refused to act or initially accepted the instruction, only later to recuse themselves7.

“Why is this important? 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, I know this acutely.

“It is within this context that I strongly and urgently suggest that you request the Premier League to fully investigate the potential acquirer of Newcastle United, including all directors, officers and other representatives from the KSA PIF or other Saudi Arabian entities involved in or otherwise providing any financing for the acquisition – including (but not limited to) the open and uncompromising application of the Owners’ and Directors’ Test.

“There appear to be several reasons why such an investigation is being called for by other parties8; however my request is purely based on the Saudi Arabia government’s role in the past and continuing theft of the commercial interests of your club, the Premier League, all its broadcast partners and football in general – which, I think you would agree, simply cannot go ignored. It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake.

“I would like to state unequivocally that this request in no way criticises or bears any reflection whatsoever on the Premier League office or their management, who have done more than any single entity in world sport to combat Saudi Arabia’s operation; including legally, politically and technologically. The Premier League executive team – on behalf of you and all its member clubs – has committed more resource, time and expertise to protect the League’s intellectual property than any other league or indeed sport in the world. As an exemplar and without compromise, they have led the industry fight against Saudi Arabia’s commercial theft for nearly 3 years.

“It is for this reason that beIN MEDIA GROUP is more committed than ever in supporting, promoting and partnering with the Premier League around the world. This request simply seeks to hold to account, on behalf of all broadcasters, those parties that have sought – and continue to seek – to undermine the Premier League and its member clubs.”

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