x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

World Cup fans will have to pony up to see matches

Prices start at Dh440 for fans who want to see the tournament in their homes.

Lionel Messi dribbles through two Slovenian defenders during Argentina's World Cup warm-up match in Buenos Aires. UAE viewers will have to pay at least Dh440 to watch Messi in action when the tournament starts later this week. Maxi Fallia / AFP Photo
Lionel Messi dribbles through two Slovenian defenders during Argentina's World Cup warm-up match in Buenos Aires. UAE viewers will have to pay at least Dh440 to watch Messi in action when the tournament starts later this week. Maxi Fallia / AFP Photo

ABU DHABI // BeIN Sports was accused on Saturday of accidentally encouraging TV piracy by overcharging football fans to watch the World Cup.

Depending on their TV provider, viewers will have to pay at least Dh440 on top of their annual subscription for access to all 64 matches in the tournament, which kicks off in Brazil on Thursday.

BeIN Sports, based in Qatar, holds the World Cup broadcast rights. It charges its own satellite subscribers directly for an encrypted viewing card, while cable TV viewers pay indirectly through du or Etisalat.

Du is charging customers an additional Dh440 to watch the World Cup, and Etisalat eLife an extra Dh450. The charge for BeIN Sports satellite viewers is the subject of some confusion, since it depends on whether you are a new or existing customer, when your subscription expires and where you buy the card and set-top box. “Final price will be determined at the point of sale,” BeIN Sports says on its website.

The website also offers what it calls a “World Cup Package” at Dh570 for three months and Dh1,018 for a year, although the tournament itself runs for only four weeks.

Football fan Darren Ball, a British expatriate who has lived in Abu Dhabi for five years, said the pricing was typical of the disdain with which BeIN Sports habitually treated its customers.

“The network seems to have a monopoly surrounding the broadcast rights and does not really care about the consumer,” he said.

When the encryption process changed last month, he said the company “left me on hold for more than 40 minutes at a time over a period of four calls and their online registration did not work”.

“It seems that all the capital has been invested in obtaining the broadcast rights, while the broadcasting itself, and the subscriber, are not important,” he added.

“What choice do we have other than purchasing the World Cup package from a substandard network provider that revels in its own propaganda? Piracy, which is what they are trying to avoid but are inadvertently promoting.”

Wouter Kramer, 32, a South African expatriate who works for a media-monitoring company, will not be paying the extra charges.

“I don’t think it is a great idea that we already have to pay extra for the English Premier League and now they say we have to pay for the World Cup as well,” he said. “I am not going to pay for that. I will go out to watch the compelling games.

“In South Africa we are probably very lucky as Supersport Multichoice provides excellent coverage of all sports. I have never found that we had to pay additional fees for any sport, irrespective of South Africa’s involvement.

“To my mind the structure is wrong. I think they are limiting the viewers they will have for the event. Rather than focus on a subscription model, they should focus on getting eyes on these channels and making their money by selling advertising.”

Samia Iftekhar, a 26-year-old Bangladeshi who was born in Abu Dhabi, said: “I find it ridiculous. However, as a female football fan and it being Ramadan, I can’t stay out late every night to watch at cafes so I ended up subscribing to the beIN sports World Cup package on eLife yesterday.

“I’m an existing beIN subscriber so I didn’t expect to pay this much. In the grand scheme of things, it is not a lot of money since the World Cup comes around every four years, but with very few options it feels like we’re being forced to pay as much as they ask.”

ksinclair@thenational.ae