One of the Premier League’s biggest overseas broadcast partners is urging it to “fully interrogate” a proposed £300m takeover of iconic football club Newcastle United.
Mike Ashley, who has owned Newcastle since 2007, put the club up for sale in 2017, and the proposed transaction could now see the Magpies come under the ownership of a Saudi-backed consortium.
However, Yousef al-Obaidly, chief executive of the Qatar-based TV giant beIN Sports, has recently written to the chairmen of some of the UK’s top clubs to express his concerns over the deal.
The BBC reports that in the letter, al-Obaidly accuses the Saudi Arabian government of being party to the “theft” of the Premier League’s commercial rights and individual clubs’ commercial revenues through its backing of beoutQ, a pirate service which has been illegally broadcasting matches.
Al-Obaidly, who has also written to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, warns that the “future economic model of football” is at risk.
He describes the issue as “a matter of urgency”, adding that with the devastating economic effect of the current pandemic on the sports industry, it has never been more important for football clubs to protect their broadcast revenue.
In his letter to Masters al-Obaidly says that if reports about the Newcastle deal are correct, it is essential that the Premier League fully investigate the potential new owners of the club, from directors right through to any other Saudi Arabian entities involved in or providing finance for the acquisition.
Although pirate channel beoutQ has been illegally broadcasting matches in Saudi Arabia, the rights to show games in that region actually belong to beIN Sports, who are currently in the middle of a three-year deal worth £400m with the Premier League.
Last year world football bodies including Fifa, Uefa, Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the Asian Football Confederation called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to take action against the beoutQ service, but so far to no avail.
The Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat) maintains that beoutQ does not use its frequencies to broadcast illegally, and has even accused beIN of being involved in “defamation attempts and misleading campaigns”.
Premier League must decide
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (the PIF or Public Investment Fund) is understood to be in line to acquire an 80% stake in Newcastle United as part of a consortium including British businesswoman Amanda Staveley and billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has also entered the fray, suggesting that the “glamour and prestige” of Premier League football could be used to mask actions which are in breach of international law and are at odds with the values of the League and the wider football community.
The Premier League is believed to be already in the process of working through paperwork connected to the deal, and will ultimately have to decide if the group of investors backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund meets the requirements of its owners’ and directors’ test.