ABU DHABI // Many football fans hoping to watch the big Barclays Premier League kick-off on Saturday were in a familiar position yesterday – in the dark.
From this season matches will be broadcast on Al Jazeera Sport but the Qatar broadcaster has not told telecoms companies du and Etisalat which channels will carry them and what they will cost.
And with silence from Doha, local satellite providers were offering conflicting information.
Amid the confusion, fans turned for help to Al Jazeera Sport’s website, which was suddenly transformed yesterday afternoon.
The previous Sport +5 to +10 have disappeared from the channel line-up, replaced by the existing HD1 and HD2 and four further high-definition channels.
The new line-up shows four free-to-air and 10 subscription channels, six of them HD. All 10 Premier League matches on Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be screened live in high definition.
Neverthless, subscribers to Etisalat and du’s TV services remained unclear about how they could watch the new channels.
A du customer service representative said Al Jazeera had not provided it with any information on its HD packages yet.
The representative said it would cost subscribers Dh70 to unlock Al Jazeera Sport for three months. He said the matches would be shown on channels 9 and 10, but since these channels appear no longer to exist it was unclear how this would occur.
An Etisalat spokesman said its subscribers could call the 800-101 support-centre number to access Al Jazeera Sport.
At the centre, an operator said they would charge a Dh29 monthly fee to unscramble Al Jazeera’s 10 sports channels for three months.
With only days to go before the first match between Liverpool and Stoke – kicking off at 3.45pm UAE time on Saturday – fans had been understandably concerned.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Adam Ellis, 38, a Manchester United supporter. “We’ve known for a while now that Al Jazeera had won the rights but no one has been able to tell me how to subscribe.”
He said he usually signed up for extra football channels in advance, but had been fearing he would be forced to go to a hotel to watch the matches.
Al Jazeera Sport’s website also offers an option to subscribe to Aljazeerasport.tv, which streams the games online.
“I prefer to watch it on TV with the surround sound on but I have watched games online before as a last resort,” said Mr Ellis.
“As long as the picture is clear and it is a good strong feed, I’d put up with it. But it’s not my first choice.”
Another football fan said he was worried last week when the staff at the du office had no information on Al Jazeera’s screening plans.
“They told me they didn’t know what packages were available or how much it would cost,” said the Arsenal fan.
Al Jazeera acquired exclusive rights in July to broadcast the league games in the Middle East and North Africa.
In previous seasons, the rights to broadcast the Premier League matches were held by Abu Dhabi Media, which owns The National.
Etisalat and du customers were able purchase an additional subscription that allowed them access match channels. Some fans, however, needed to buy a dedicated box to watch the matches.
The World Cup was broadcast in the Middle East by Al Jazeera in 2010 for an additional Dh295 to Dh384.
Customers complained about image and audio interruption during the first few games and the network blamed sabotage.
However, no one was ever caught or charged for interfering with the signal.
Aston Villa fan Brian Freeman said he was not surprised about the last-minute information. “As usual, it all falls into place in time for the first kick off,” said the 28-year-old Briton. “I just had to sit it out and wait.”