Al-Jazeera Ready to Play Ball?


To many, soccer makes the world go round and, if this is true, the country of Qatar is poised to take advantage of the situation. In 2022, Qatar will be the first Arab country to host the World Cup, the world’s most-watched sporting event, and it is building innovative, air-conditioned stadia that will be partially disassembled after the event and sent to less wealthy countries.

Meanwhile, the television-news network owned by Qatar, Al-Jazeera, is using soccer in a different way.

Reuters reports that Al-Jazeera, the most-watched channel in the Arab world, is “racing to launch a new French channel in early June in time for the European Football championships, offering a service for about 11 euros per month.” To get ready, the network has trademarked the channel’s name, beIN Sport, across the globe.[more]

With that channel and all the cash Qatar has due to the oil and gas riches of its soil, Al-Jazeera may end up going after the United Kingdom rights to the Premier League, Reuters reports. Those rights are now mostly held by News Corp’s BSkyB.

“The Qataris see sport as being an entree for themselves on the world stage, and the next piece in the jigsaw puzzle is a really big rights acquisition,” said Graham Shear, a lawyer specializing in sports, to Reuters. “The Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore is trying to generate a competition; he would love to see Sky and Al Jazeera go head to head.”

Reuters notes that the organization already owns the most popular sports network in the Middle East and Africa, with two free and 15 pay channels. But if it decides to go after the European pay-TV market, “it will have to take on established pay-TV groups in each market, shell out big money for rights, especially in England, and overcome its lack of a distribution network.” But that may not the network, which has enough cash on hand to lose money in the business for years while building up the business, Reuters points out.

Money has a funny way, though, of making things happen when someone wants them to get done. It remains to be seen if Al-Jazeera is committed to going after the market fully. If it is, its money and name will be thrown about quite a bit more in the coming years.

And in another interesting move this week, the network launched a crowdsourced open journalism initiative: Tell Your Story, inviting ideas from the public (via Facebook, as also promoted on Twitter) that could make it on-air:

[Image via Shutterstock]