ABU DHABI AND DUBAI // Football fans in the UAE reacted with predictable delight yesterday at the possibility of the English Premier League being made available to the masses - free. Abu Dhabi TV's Sports channel, a free-to air broadcaster, has won the exclusive rights to the games starting in August 2010. Its owner Abu Dhabi Media Company, which publishes The National, says it is a chance to take the rights "to a wider public". Eyad al Abdullah, 27, an accountant working in the capital, was pleased to hear it, but said he would be even happier if the games were made available free of charge, and not just via a different type of paid subscription.
"Football brings people together and provides an atmosphere of entertainment to everyone, not just hard-core fans," Mr al Abdullah said. "It's not fair that people have to spend money on a useless subscription just to be able to be part of the fun of football, or have to pay ridiculous cover charges and minimum charges to go out and watch a game with friends. "Maybe now, with ADMC getting the rights, things might be a bit more fair for the average person who just wants to enjoy watching a good game."
Abu Dhabi TV has secured the rights to bring live matches to the Middle East and North Africa for three consecutive league seasons. Many fans said they were unhappy with the way the games were currently being presented on pay-TV. Ben Adams, 28, a British-born construction manager living in Dubai, pays Dh250 (US$68) a month for a package and said: "I only got it for the football, but in comparison to the entertainment you get back in the UK, it is terrible. I don't mind paying for a set-top box, although I would prefer getting it free ... I will buy whichever package includes Premier League football."
Andy Jarvis, 35, a wealth manager, added: "I am in a serviced apartment and get paid-for television, but I would definitely consider getting a set-top box for the football." Dana Alnemeh, 29, said her husband, Samer, was a huge fan of football. "If there's a chance he can watch his favourite football games free, I'm sure my husband will go for it," she said. David Ramskill of Scotland is a quantity surveyor working in Abu Dhabi. He said: "The sport packages are the reason I subscribe, and part of reason is because of the Premiership, but it depends on the country you're from. If you were American, you would get a different response. ... as long as Premier League is there, I'll watch it."
Rajesh Gopalakrishnan, 56, says he is not a typical football fan, but understands that it is a big deal for some people. "Football brings people together in the Middle East, it is fact," Mr Gopalakrishnan said. "I think it is, of course, a good thing to have it available to everyone, but it will not stop all the friends preferring to go out together and watch a good game from a cafe, because it is enjoyable as a group."
Vincent Gomez, assistant manager at NRG Sports Bar in Abu Dhabi's Le Meridien hotel, said the Abu Dhabi TV broadcast of the games would prove successful only if a few conditions were in place first. "The football is very popular here, along with cricket, tennis and rugby," he said. "Service needs to be very clear, and there has to be a good sound system. It would be better to give English and Arabic commentary as well."
Lee Callaghan, 41, works as a sales manager in Dubai, and says he is a "diehard fan of the Arsenal team". "If I really can get my football games free on Abu Dhabi TV, then there's just nothing more I need in this country," Mr Callaghan said. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com