x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sports fans left in the dark with channel blackout set to continue

Fans of American football are disappointed that they cannot watch playoff games on Etisalat's eVision service because of ongoing broadcast contract negotiations.

DUBAI // Daniel Hall used to rise very early in the morning to watch American football games, but a hold-up in broadcast contract negotiations has forced him to miss his favourite teams in their most crucial playoff games.

And unfortunately for Mr Hall and like-minded fans, it is unclear whether the problem will be fixed in time for this weekend's round of games, as Humaid Al Suwaidi, the chief executive of Etisalat eVision, has declined to comment on when the channels will come back on.

"The big thing for me is college football," said Mr Hall, the assistant provost at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi. "I'm from Oregon, and the Oregon Ducks got to the Rose Bowl and won it for the first time in 95 years, but I missed it because of the blackout."

Mr Hall, who has been in the UAE for nine months, said he also followed the National Football League's Denver Broncos, but missed their stunning overtime play-off win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

He said the games were shown on two of the ESPN channels, but all three were down because of the contract talks.

The blackout affects subscribers to Etisalat's eVision package, which includes the ESPN channels. The contract between Etisalat and Al Jazeera, the Middle East rights holder, expired at the end of last year.

On Sunday, Mr Al Suwaidi said he hoped that a new contract would be agreed upon "very, very soon", but could not give a date. He would not comment when asked if customers would be refunded for the service interruption.

"It's very annoying because it's affecting some very big games," said Phil Daly, an American IT consultant who lives in Abu Dhabi. "They should have sorted this out long ago. We are paying for this service but aren't getting anything for it. I hope Etisalat offers people their money back."

He said he was concerned that the contract negotiations would drag on for weeks.

The problem began on New Year's Eve, Mr Hall said.

"I have contacted the Etisalat customer service people and they told me it was a technical fault and they were working to correct it," he said. "However, it now turns out to be a contract problem, which I really hope gets resolved as soon as possible. The games are usually on from around 2am to 4am, and I wake up to watch them even when I have to be in work that day."

Mark Drummond, the provost at HCT in Abu Dhabi, said a similar blackout last year had been attributed to technical problems.

"This blackout could not have come at a worse time," he said. "If it was in July when the only thing on would have been golf, no one would have cared, but it's the high season, so to speak, when all the big games are played."

Mr Drummond was worried he would miss many US college basketball matches as well.

"It's not the end of the world, but we pay for a service and we expect to be able to use that service. I just hope the negotiations can be resolved as soon as possible."

nhanif@thenational.ae