Qatar’s beIN Sports nears Spanish TV deal

Formerly known as Al Jazeera Sport, beIN Sports this year launched its Spanish spin-off channel. Pascal Pavani / AFP
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LONDON // Qatar’s beIN Sports is closing in on a distribution deal with Telefónica in Spain, its partner says, with the network also tipped to bid for domestic TV rights for La Liga games.

Formerly known as Al Jazeera Sport, beIN Sports this year launched its Spanish spin-off channel, which shows football fixtures from the Uefa Champions League and Europa League, among other tournaments.

It has so far secured deals for the Spanish channel to be carried on networks including Vodafone, Orange TV and Telecable.

But beIN Sports En Español is yet to strike a similar deal with Telefónica, which became Spain’s largest domestic pay-TV operator after its takeover of Canal+ this year.

Mediapro, the Qatari network’s partner in Spain, says it is hopeful it will reach an agreement for Telefónica to distribute the channel.

“We have reached agreements with almost all the operators, however, to date Telefónica have refused to accept the same conditions,” the Mediapro president Jaume Roures said a couple of days ago. “Nevertheless, our hope is that in the coming days they will realise that their football offer is not attractive enough without the Champions League and the Europa League and we will eventually be able to see eye to eye.”

Telefónica, Europe’s second-largest telecoms company and one of Spain’s biggest multinationals, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

The company is listed in Madrid as well on other markets in cities including London and New York.

Aside from the potential deal with Telefónica, beIN Sports is likely to bid for a share of the domestic rights to broadcast La Liga games in Spain, analysts say.

The high-profile La Liga includes top teams such as Real Madrid, which is sponsored by Dubai’s Emirates, Barcelona FC, sponsored by Qatar Airways, and Málaga, which is owned by the Qatari businessman Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani.

Mr Roures did not confirm that beIN Sports would definitely bid for the rights for future La Liga seasons, saying it will be a few months before the terms are announced. “Until these conditions have been made public, we cannot define our aspirations or our offer,” he said.

But others said it was highly likely beIN Sports would be interested in buying some of the rights to show La Liga games in Spain. Rights for the current season, which starts tonight with Malaga hosting Sevilla, are held by Telefónica and redistributed to some other broadcasters, but not beIN Sports’ Spanish channel.

“I would expect beIN Sports to bid,” said Francois Godard, a media analyst at Enders Analysis. “These are the only rights that put you on the map. Otherwise you can’t charge a subscription.”

But he said a bidding war was unlikely. “I wouldn’t expect beIN Sports to try to get everything [or] to go and bid hundreds of millions against Telefónica.”

Tim Westcott, a principal analyst for TV at IHS Technology in London, said the Al Jazeera spin-off network had been fairly conservative when bidding for football broadcast rights in Europe, such as those it secured for France’s Ligue 1.

But he said Spain’s La Liga TV rights are “clearly undervalued” and are likely to be more expensive from next season.

The current value of all La Liga domestic TV rights within Spain, for the 2015/16 season, stands at €600 million (Dh2.43 billion), according to IHS. That compares to the €1.56bn annual value of domestic TV rights for the Premier League in England and the top flight by the same name in Ireland, and €849m for the Serie A in Italy.

“beIN Sports could of course bid for the next contract starting in 2016/17,” said Mr Westcott.

“La Liga is clearly undervalued and you would expect the rights to go for considerably more from next year.”

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