DUBAI // Fans who watch American football on Etisalat's eVision service are seeing blank screens instead because of a hold-up in broadcast contract talks.
Frustrated viewers have already missed the first National Football League playoffs, yesterday and on Saturday, and there are four more crucial games next weekend.
The games are broadcast on the American cable channel ESPN. The Middle East rights to ESPN are owned by Al Jazeera. The contract between the Qatar broadcaster and Etisalat expired at the end of last year, and negotiations to renew it are still going on.
The issue is not related to payment, Humaid Al Suwaidi, chief executive of eVision, said yesterday. "These are normal discussions between two parties, and hopefully we can get them resolved as soon as possible.
"I can understand the concern of our viewers who want to watch these games and we are doing our best to resolve the situation," he said.
“Some issues are taking some time and have to go through our legal departments. We should have it resolved very, very soon, but I cannot give a date.”
Mr Al Suwaidi would not say whether fans who had paid for ESPN would receive refunds for the period that the service was not available.
Du customers are unaffected by the blackout. “I haven’t noticed any issues with the games not being shown through ESPN,” said Brent Jenkins, an American national living in Dubai.
“I think in general it’s confusing for American sports fans when they come here because there isn’t one channel that has the games and, to be honest, there isn’t that much coverage. There is more of an interest in soccer here than American football.”
Al Jazeera did not respond to a request for comment and no one from ESPN could be reached.
The ESPN blackout is a repeat of what happened at the same time last year, although for different reasons.
Al Jazeera bought the rights to screen ESPN channels from the Arab Radio and Television Network (Art) in November 2010.
Under the agreement, Art shut down its sport channels on the last day of 2010, but their subscribers were to receive their content through Al Jazeera channels. However, a technical fault developed when the broadcast frequencies were changed, and the ESPN stations went off the air for about three days.