International Sports

Qatar-based BeIN Sports steps up piracy fight against Saudi Arabian rival channel

Key Points
  • BeIN Sports has accused a rival broadcaster of brazenly stealing its sports content.
  • The Qatari company says a Saudi Arabian firm is even rebranding and selling set-top boxes.
AC Milan' players receive medals following their Supercoppa Italiana final match against Juventus at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on January 16, 2019.
- | AFP | Getty Images

Qatari-based sports broadcaster beIN Media Group published what it called a "dossier of evidence," which it says "publicly exposes the industrial scale theft of world sports and entertainment."

It claims these acts have been carried out by Saudi Arabia's pirate operation beoutQ and Arabsat — the Riyadh-headquartered satellite provider — over the past 18 months.

BeIN Sports has accused the rival broadcaster of brazenly stealing its output from a variety of top sports leagues from around the world and rebranding it as its own, even to the extent of selling beoutQ set-top boxes.

"We have a very simple message on behalf of the whole sports and entertainment industry: We will not cease our fight against this unprecedented piracy operation until it is eradicated," said beIN Media Group Chief Executive Yousef Al-Obaidly in a statement on Wednesday.

The timing of beIN's latest claims is particularly poignant as it coincides with the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah hosting two of European soccer's most successful clubs. The Supercoppa put reigning Serie A champion Juventus up against seven-time European Cup winner AC Milan on Wednesday in a game that was already causing controversy.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus acknowledges the fans as he celebrates after winning the Italian Supercup match between Juventus and AC Milan at King Abdullah Sports City on January 16, 2019 in Jeddah.
Marco Rosi | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

A deal was struck last June for around 20 million euros ($22 million) to stage the Supercoppa in Saudi Arabia for three of the next five seasons.

However, following the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, several major sporting eventsplanned for the country have come under scrutiny.

Saudi Arabia has been attempting to project a more moderate image to the world in recent months. However, the Khashoggi controversy and laws outlawing women from even attending soccer matches led to Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, himself a fan of AC Milan, to say he won't be watching the match out of principle.

It's the sixth time in 10 years that the Supercoppa has been decided outside Europe. Far from home locations have included Libya, the United States, Qatar on two occasions and four times in China.

Eleven Sports Network, who own the digital rights to Italian football coverage in several territories, has also voiced its concern about the piracy issues surrounding beoutQ and also the suitability of Saudi Arabia to host the Supercoppa.

"The staging of this match in Saudi Arabia serves only to reward a country that has done nothing to combat the continued presence and operation of the beoutQ service from within its borders," Andrea Cerroni, Eleven Sports Group General Counsel, said in a letter to Serie A back in December.

"This decision will drastically damage the ongoing efforts of the entire sports industry to combat and end this hugely disruptive, illegal and damaging piracy. We strongly urge you to reconsider the decision to stage this match in Saudi Arabia," he went on to say.

Eleven Sports failed to receive a reply its letter, which was sent directly to the Chief Executive Marco Brunelli, but in October Serie A did defend the decision to stage the match in Jeddah, not least as Saudi Arabia is Italy's biggest trading partner in the Middle East.

Last month the World Trade Organization in Geneva approved a request for the establishment of a WTO panel to adjudicate on the beoutQ case brought against Saudi Arabia for violating intellectual property rights.

In October, beIN commenced an international investment arbitration claiming over $1 billion in damages against Saudi Arabia on the basis of beoutQ. Last summer, world soccer's governing body FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and other sports rights holders have disclosed that they will be launching legal action in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, also saw for the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. government place Saudi Arabia on its 2018 Special 301 Watch List, noting concerns over the deteriorating environment for the protection of intellectual property.

To add to the political and sporting rivalry that's developed between the two Arab nations, Qatar's soccer team faces its Saudi Arabian rivals in a group match at the Asian Cup on Thursday.

CNBC has attempted to contact boutQ and approached Arabsat for comment, but has so far failed to receive a response.