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Existing contract to blame for $500m beIN rights disputes, says Serie A chief

Luigi de Siervo, Italian Lega Serie A’s chief executive, has said a “multi-year agreement” for Italian Super Cup finals to be played in Saudi Arabia that pre-dated his arrival in the role is the key issue after Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Media Group threatened to cancel its three-season deal with the league.

De Siervo said in a statement to newswire Bloomberg that Serie A “could not fail to honour the contract” which it signed in June 2018. The five-year deal required three of the five upcoming Italian Super Cup matches to be played in Saudi Arabia and is believed to be worth $22.5m (€20.4m) over five years, according to Bloomberg.

De Siervo said: “The BeoutQ piracy activity of our contents has ceased, both on satellite and on the IPTV platform. We remain at the forefront, along with Fifa, Uefa and other football leagues in the fight against piracy, intervening every week through the Milan court to block several pirate sites, an action that is bearing fruit.

“From next year, we intend to always play the final of the Italian Super Cup abroad, but in the summer, before the start of the [league season], and probably with a different format.”

BeIN is currently in the second season of a three-season deal, paying $170m per season for the exclusive rights to Serie A between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 across 36 territories. The deal was agreed with the IMG agency and includes France, Spain, Australia, Turkey, seven Asian territories and a further 24 in the Middle East and North Africa.

That agreement is now in serious jeopardy as beIN has said that playing the Super Cup match between Juventus and Lazio endorses Saudi Arabia which a French court found as having ties to beoutQ, a pirate channel which has wrought havoc on beIN’s rights portfolio through illegal broadcasts.

Saudi Arabia has consistently denied involvement in beoutQ’s operations.

BeIN released a statement saying that it was now reviewing the relationship and alleged that Saudi Arabia was “responsible for the mass theft of the league’s premium sports rights for over two years”.

A spokesperson for beIN said: “It is astonishing that the league has decided to press ahead despite all the evidence of the damage that has been done to the league’s business by beoutQ, Saudi’s pirate operation.

“It is remarkable what Serie A is seemingly prepared to jeopardise – not only all the financial revenues from one of its biggest broadcaster partners, but also the exposure beIN gives to the league in markets all around the world, from Europe to Asia and all across the Middle East & North Africa. Serie A’s leadership is putting at risk all of this, in favour of making a quick buck from the very entity that has been stealing its rights for two years.”

BeoutQ’s mass piracy of beIN’s rights has been the defining issue of the Qatari broadcaster’s recent history.

The widespread piracy was pointed to as the chief reason when beIN cut 20 per cent of its Qatar-based staff in June and contributed to the broadcaster declining to renew its deal for the Mena rights to Formula One racing.

Yousef Al-Obaidly, chief executive of beIN, went so far as to say that the “glorious media rights bubble” was set to burst in an address earlier this year in London.

Al-Obaidly’s address took pointed aim at the leadership of Serie A and the Spanish Football Federation, alleging that they “see no issue with hosting their flagship Super Cup games in the very country that has been stealing the commercial rights of all their broadcast partners for over two years”.

Serie A was among a quintet of top European football leagues that jointly commissioned a report into the role of Arabsat, a Saudi Arabian satellite operator, in transmitting beoutQ’s pirated content. Fifa, world football’s governing body, and continental confederations Uefa and the AFC were also among the report’s commissioners.

It is highly doubtful that any firm legal action will be taken against Arabsat or beoutQ in Saudi Arabia as there appears to be no law firm willing to bring a claim in the kingdom.