Saudi Arabia and Bundesliga ‘hold talks’ over Mena media rights

There have been talks between representatives of the Saudi Arabian state and the German Bundesliga about a potential deal for the league’s media rights in the Middle East.

The Financial Times reported that a Saudi official said the league approached the state as part of a wider effort to market the rights for the 2020-21 season onwards. The FT also said there is interest on the Saudi side in acquiring the rights.

The Bundesliga’s rights across the Middle East and North Africa are currently held by Qatari-owned beIN Sports in a five-season deal, from 2015-16 to 2019-20, worth close to $50m (€44.4m) per season.

A Saudi bid for the Bundesliga rights in the region could open up another front within sport in the diplomatic conflict between the country and Qatar. BeIN Sports has been severely disrupted in recent years by the Saudi-based pirate broadcaster beoutQ, which has made beIN’s content available for free across Mena.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement with beoutQ, but the World Trade Organisation recently ruled that Saudi Arabia actively promoted and supported the pirate operator in contravention of the country’s obligations under international law to protect intellectual property rights.

This week, in the latest salvo in the conflict, beIN declined to show the restart of Italian football’s Serie A.

Saudi Arabia has been stepping up investment in sport as part of moves to modernise and diversify its economy and society under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, is currently trying to buy English Premier League team Newcastle United. Other recent moves in sport have included a deal with WWE wrestling, hosting the Dakar Rally, investing in US entertainment company Live Nation, and bidding against Qatar to host the 2030 Asian Games.

Some of the moves, such as the Newcastle United bid, have faced resistance and claims that Saudi Arabia is seeking to use ‘sport-washing’ to clean up an international image tarnished by scandals including beoutQ and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.