Newcastle United’s takeover saga has been cast into further uncertainty after taking an unexpected twist on Tuesday when the Saudi Arabian government permanently barred the Premier League’s Qatar-based Middle East broadcast partner from operating in the kingdom. Given that beIN’s £500m deal with the Premier League runs until 2022 there is now no legal way for anyone in Saudi Arabia to watch England’s top tier.
A Saudi-led consortium, also featuring Amanda Staveley and Reuben Brothers, is attempting to buy Newcastle from Mike Ashley for £300m, with the Premier League having been considering whether or not to approve the deal for the past 16 weeks. It had been thought that a resolution in the consortium’s favour was finally extremely close after the kingdom appeared to have clamped down on the broadcast piracy which had been of deep concern to both the Premier League and Qatar’s beIN Sports. Now, though, an attempted buyout played out against the bitter cold war between Saudi Arabia and Qatar which has been ongoing since 2017 has apparently been thrown into further doubt.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that beIN Sports’ transmissions have been illegal in Saudi Arabia – albeit on an apparently more temporary basis – for the past three years. Analysts from all sides initially struggled to comprehend why the government in Riyadh had formally cancelled beIN’s already suspended broadcast licence at precisely the moment when Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund seemed on the verge of being handed the keys to St James’ Park.
Last night though it emerged that the Saudi government edict related to an old legal case dating back to 2016 and both PIF and their consortium partners were completely unaware it would be issued. Although it came as a shock and the timing is regarded as unfortunate sources maintain it should not affect the Newcastle deal.
Indeed facilitated, partly, by discreet interventions from the UK government, which is understood to be in favour of Newcastle’s Saudi-led takeover, a diplomatic compromise in the Saudi/Qatari broadcast war seemed about to be brokered. Instead came the surprise announcement from the Saudi General Authority for Competition (GAC) stating that beIN Sports’ licence to broadcast was cancelled permanently and Qatar fined 10m million Saudi riyals (£2.1m).
Assorted sources were left puzzled at the timing; particularly after Saudi Arabia had issued a raft of new laws outlawing pirate transmissions of the Doha broadcaster’s Premier League output. Last month a World Trade Organisation report said the Saudi state had facilitated the operations of the illegal, and now closed, beoutQ platform.
beIN described Tuesday’s Saudi decision as “nonsensical on every single level” and “plainly absurd.” In a statement it said: “We would question – as we have for three years – how Saudi citizens can watch Premier League matches legally in Saudi Arabia with this ‘permanent’ ban on the Premier League’s licensed broadcaster.”
The Premier League declined to comment but Steve Bruce is increasingly concerned that the current limbo is taking its toll at his club. “We need a decision,” said Newcastle’s manager on Tuesday. “I need it, the club needs it, the fans need it.”