LONDON // The English Premier League season kicked off in a new home yesterday. For the first time, subscribers to AD Sports Arabic channels could watch the opening contest of the season - and all 379 other Premier League games this season - with Arabic commentary.
Appropriately, the first match pitched Manchester City, bought two years ago by the Abu Dhabi United Group, in an away game with Tottenham, the team who pipped City to fourth place last season, earning the Londoners a coveted place in the Champions League. Sadly for the legions of City fans, they managed only a 0-0 draw against Harry Redknapp's side, who would have won but for some heroics in goal by Joe Hart, who was later named man of the match.
For Hamid al Harti, who presented the game from a studio at White Hart Lane in north London, the initial experience of the first Arabic broadcast for AD Sports was a memorable one. "It was brilliant - magical. It was everything that the Premier League should be, with the exception of goals," he said after the match. "It has been a dream of mine since 1995 to present a Premier League game, and it did not disappoint.
"I think the whole broadcast went well and I hope that the Arabic coverage of the Premier League will bring the excitement of the world's best football league to a whole new audience." Alongside al Harti for the match were the commentator Fahed al Otaibi and the guest analyst Khald Bayoumi, all of whom only arrived in London from the UAE on Friday, but were up and running by kick-off at 12.45pm British time yesterday.
"Everyone was very helpful at Tottenham and there were none of the technical glitches that you obviously dread when you start out on an ambitious programme like this," said al Harti. "I know both Fahed and Khald, who are both very experienced operators, were pleased with the end result." The broadcasters will be returning to the UAE today to review yesterday's pioneering broadcast and help plan upcoming coverage.
More Arabic Premier League shows than ever before will be available on two dedicated pay-TV channels - AD Sports 3 and 4 - with exclusive new Arabic programmes including Inside the Premier League,The Premier League Live, Football Fever and Final Score. Arabic programming on the two channels was launched on Friday evening by the Liverpool legend Ian Rush and the former France and Chelsea star Marcel Desailly, who were guests on a special preview show.
Mohammed Najeeb, the director of AD Sports Channels, said: "The line-up of Barclays Premier League programming and the talent that we are bringing to the AD Sports Channels are unlike anything seen before in this region. "We are raising the standard for Arabic and English audiences, and offering more than just games and analysis. "Our viewers will have access to some of the world's best loved presenting and commentary talent, as well as a host of football legends both past and present, who will add to the analysis and debate as the season unfolds. We are proud to be able to name such a prestigious line-up of talent for our shows. If the football was not enough to keep people watching, then the talent alone certainly will be."
AD Sports' flagship English channel, AD Sports 5, is offering round-the-clock coverage of Premier League TV, the official channel of the Premier League. Exclusive programming will include preview and review shows, latest news, special features and in-depth analysis. A second English channel, AD Sports 6, will bring viewers a mix of Barclays Premier League action and coverage of some of the world's greatest sporting fixtures, including Formula 1, UFL and tennis, all in HD.
The English language presenting team includes John Dykes, Mark Pougatch, Ian Payne, Alison Bender, Georgie Bingham, Andy Townsend and Leroy Rosenior. AD Sports is owned by Abu Dhabi Media Company, which publishes The National. "It is the most thrilling football competition in the world," said al Harthi. "And I think that, despite the absence of goals, Saturday's Spurs-Manchester City game proved it. It was certainly an honour and a pleasure to be involved."