The television sports rights agency MP & Silva has won a three-year contract to distribute English Premier League football in the Middle East and North Africa, it was announced yesterday.
The value of the deal was not disclosed, but is part of a total expected windfall from global TV rights for the league of more than £5 billion (Dh28.99bn) in 2013 through 2016, and covers all 380 Premier League matches per season, extending across 23 countries from Iran to Morocco, taking in the UAE and Egypt.
Abu Dhabi Media (ADM) held the rights for the region for three years from the start of the 2010-2011 season and had been expected to retain them, further cementing the emirate's close ties with the sport that includes Etihad Airways sponsoring the Premier League Champions Manchester City, also owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed.
ADM, which owns and publishes The National, has made a significant investment in broadcasting the game in the region, pioneering high-definition technology, creating original Arabic content and streaming matches and highlights via the internet for the first time, industry sources said.
"They [ADM] showed every single game live, which had not been done before, bringing in Premier League TV content and also providing the coverage for a very affordable fee to consumers," said one of the sources.
Both ADM and Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, submitted unsuccessful bids, reports said.
"In the last three years we have had a chance to assess the value of the market and subsequently made a generous bid for the English Premier League television rights for the region that exceeded that value, which is the product of our commitment to our viewers and to promoting the game in the region," a source at ADM said.
"In light of MP & Silva's winning bid, ADM will consider its options and will make a decision on its future plans."
The deal with MP & Silva has created some uncertainty over who will broadcast the Premier League next season in the region. One option is to break up the rights and sell to broadcasters in individual markets.
"British Premier League rights are always highly sought after, in recent years the amount of money they've been sold off for have been escalating," said Michael Dean, an analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media.
"In the case of the region you have very big markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but also smaller local markets, which are harder for the Premiership to deal with directly, so they sell to the likes of MP & Silva who sell the rights on."
* with additional reporting by Triska Hamid