Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) has bought the exclusive rights to broadcast the FIA Formula One World Championship in the MENA region from this year to 2012, it says. The deal marks the company's second major acquisition of regional rights to top-level international sporting events in less than a year, after buying the rights to the English Premier League (EPL) last summer. ADMC owns and publishes The National.
The deal also represents a strengthening of Abu Dhabi's ties to F1, after hosting the season's final race at Yas Marina Circuit last November. "Abu Dhabi is aiming to be the international capital of sport so the media has to follow this growth," said Mohammed Najeeb, the head of Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya Channels, the sports broadcasting department at ADMC. "Formula One is a very important sport. A lot of people love to watch it and after building Yas Marina Circuit, definitely we have to follow the growth of this sport."
The Abu Dhabi Government bought the MENA broadcasting rights at the same time as it made the deal to bring the race to the capital, and resold them to ADMC, government officials said. Bahrain TV, the state broadcaster of the first country in the region to host an F1 race, held the regional rights last year. Before that they were held by Al Jazeera. The region's English-speaking F1 fans will be able to watch a feed of the races in English for the first time, beginning with the start of the season in March. Bahrain broadcast the races only in Arabic.
ADMC will also broadcast the races in Arabic on its free-to-air channel, Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya 2. FIA restrictions prevent the company from putting the English feed on free-to-air satellite. The English broadcasts of the races will be screened on E-Vision, Etisalat's internet protocol television service, and the encrypted pay-TV channel it plans to launch this year. That channel, first announced last month with ADMC's plans to distribute its EPL rights, will be rolled out by August, Mr Najeeb said.
ADMC will have its own English and Arabic-speaking presenters and commentators for 10 of the season's 19 races, he said. "Our acquisition of the exclusive rights to Formula One further strengthens ADMC's investment in sport entertainment," said Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of ADMC. "We are confident that this addition to our portfolio will delight and excite racing fans across MENA who are increasingly referencing Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya Channels as the go-to place for superb sport broadcasting."