Al Jazeera scores with broadcast rights for World Cups

Rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups to the Middle East and North Africa have been secured by Qatar's Al Jazeera.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 18:  Wayne Rooney of England speaks to a cameraman as he walks off the pitch dejected after the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between England and Algeria at Green Point Stadium on June 18, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***  GYI0060803072.jpg
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Al Jazeera has acquired the regional broadcast rights to the FIFA World Cups of 2018 and 2022 in a deal estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The broadcaster will air games across the Mena region, including those held in its home country of Qatar, which hosts the football tournament in 2022.

The deal includes cable TV, satellite, terrestrial, mobile and broadband rights across 23 territories and countries, FIFA said yesterday.

FIFA did not disclose the sum paid for the broadcast rights. Al Jazeera did not respond to a request for comment.

Commentators said the deal would have been worth "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

"For both tournaments, I'd benchmark it at US$350 million (Dh1.28 billion)," said Bashar Abdulkarim, the managing director of the sports marketing and sponsorship consultancy Relay Mena. "It would be worth hundreds of millions, definitely."

Other commentators said the deal could be worth far more.

Emmanuel Hembert, a principal based in London specialising in sports management at the consultancy AT Kearney, said the fact that the 2022 World Cup was being held in Qatar could have boosted the value of the broadcast rights.

"The regional factor probably drove a premium of 20 to 25 per cent," Mr Hembert said.

"It's going to be a home World Cup, so there will be a huge local following. There are a number of factors that makes it a premium."

These include Qatar's automatic qualification in 2022, and all games being played in the same time zone.

Competition from other regional media companies could also drive up broadcast rights by 50 per cent, Mr Hembert said.

Al Jazeera Sport paid a reported $1bn in 2009 for the rights for the sports content broadcast by Arab Radio and Television, which included the World Cups of last year and the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Although that deal included other sports rights, Mr Hembert said it meant the cost of securing the 2018 and 2022 tournaments could be "extremely high".

"If they paid $1 billion before, it could be more than that," he said.

Last year, Al Jazeera Sport charged for access to the games. But it will offer free access to at least some of the games in future tournaments. The deal will include "free TV coverage as agreed between the two parties and in line with FIFA distribution policies", according to FIFA.

The Al Jazeera arrangement marks the first broadcast-rights deal to be struck by FIFA since it announced that the 2018 and 2022 tournaments would be hosted in Russia and Qatar respectively.

Regions covered by the agreement include the UAE and other Gulf countries, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

The deal means Al Jazeera Sport will be airing four consecutive World Cups on its channels.

Al Jazeera came under fire last summer when viewers across the Mena region experienced interference while watching broadcasts of several games. The disruption included pixellated images, blank screens and commentaries in the wrong language.

It was later alleged that "saboteurs" based in Jordan deliberately disrupted the broadcasts, in what Al Jazeera called an act of "space terrorism".