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Saudi businessmen ‘offered sizeable sum to Premier League for screening rights’

The offer was made during takeover talks at Newcastle which have since fallen through.

The proposed Saudi deal to buy Newcastle collapsed yesterday.
The proposed Saudi deal to buy Newcastle collapsed yesterday.
Image: Richard Sellers

SAUDI ARABIAN BUSINESSMEN offered a substantial sum to the Premier League for the rights to screen matches in the kingdom in a bid to solve the piracy issue which it was feared could derail the Newcastle takeover, the PA news agency has learned.

The Saudi public investment fund, which was set to take an 80 per cent stake in the Magpies until the consortium it was part of withdrew its offer on Thursday, is understood to have assembled a group of private businessmen from the country to put together an offer to take on the national rights for the league.

Qatar-based beIN SPORTS is the Premier League rights holder for the Middle East and North Africa region, including Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis argued that because beIN’s licence to broadcast in the kingdom had been suspended since 2017, it could not be considered a legitimate broadcaster there.

The Premier League is understood to have dismissed the offer out of hand.

The league declined to comment, as it has throughout the takeover process.

The offer to pay to broadcast matches in Saudi Arabia came after the pirate broadcaster beoutQ illegally screened a huge variety of sporting events, including Premier League games.

A report by the World Trade Organisation in June found the Saudi state had facilitated beoutQ’s activities and had failed to do enough to protect the intellectual property (IP) rights of numerous rights holders across the globe, including the Premier League.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia appealed against the findings of the WTO report.

Amanda Staveley, whose PCP Capital Partners would have taken a 10 per cent stake in the club had the deal gone through, told The Times on Thursday that: “The piracy issue was not an issue but we tried to resolve it anyway.”

amanda-staveley-legal-action Amanda Staveley said the 'piracy issue was not an issue'. Source: Owen Humphreys

It had previously been reported that the Saudis were looking to establish a pan-national broadcast company to make a challenge to beIN SPORTS for the next rights cycle from 2022, but PA understands an offer was also made for a deal to begin during the existing terms of beIN’s contract.

Earlier this month the Saudi state permanently revoked beIN’s licence to broadcast in the kingdom, which meant there was no legal means to watch Premier League football there.

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The Premier League and other rights holders package the MENA rights in the way they do for technological as well as commercial reasons, because of the issue of trying to successfully geo-block satellite signals from neighbouring countries.

It is understood that had the Premier League taken up the Saudi offer, it would have been in breach of its deal with beIN.

The parties involved in the proposed takeover released a statement on Thursday announcing they had withdrawn their offer, blaming among other things the “prolonged process” involved.

It is understood the Premier League, which was conducting its owners’ and directors’ test on the bidders, had concerns that the Saudi PIF was too closely linked to the kingdom’s rulers.

Former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer told BBC Radio 5 Live on Friday morning: “There’s a lot of anger, understandably so, and a massive amount of disappointment (among Newcastle supporters).

alan-shearer-file-photo Shearer says Newcastle fans will be annoyed by the collapse of the deal. Source: PA

“They want their club to compete, they want their club to move forward, that’s why yesterday was such a disappointing day.”

Current Newcastle owner Mike Ashley remains “100 per cent committed” to the sale, managing director Lee Charnley told Sky Sports.

The Saudi PIF is committed to investing in sport as part of the country’s Vision 2030 project, and while it has walked away from this deal it is understood it remains committed to the idea of investing in sports generally despite this setback.

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