Liam Kennedy: Saudi move away from the 'Republic of Pirates' can only be positive when it comes to the Newcastle United takeover

Piracy. The stealing of intellectual property rights type, not the swashbuckling, sword-flashing, Nassau, New Providence kind.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 1:40 pm

The premise for both is similar, I suppose. Robbing from a producer or holder, often an elite, to illegally profit from said garnered bounty, often benefitting the less than elite.

This isn’t a fight on the high seas, with salten tanned skins, flashes of silver and jewel with the Jolly Roger raised high, instead it’s one which skirts across international boundaries, up in the ether or down through snaking metallic wires – and touches house, home, bar room and lounge across the globe.

The stealing of intellectual property when it comes to the Premier League is a hot topic, and one which often strays into Newcastle United takeover conversations.

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His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Chairman Saudi Golf Federation,during a practice round prior of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on February 02, 2021 in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Chairman Saudi Golf Federation,during a practice round prior of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on February 02, 2021 in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

Said stealing of Premier League games by people who’ve not paid for the right to broadcast or show them in said country is nothing new, of course. We all know this.

Put your hand up if you’ve barely missed watching a Newcastle United game for the last 20 years, even if you haven’t had a ticket, or it wasn’t set for a Sky or BT broadcast. Yeah, thought so.

Not many pubs on Tyneside haven’t done the ‘pull down the blinds’ routine with the lass from behind the bar checking you in at the door to see if you’re a ‘recognised regular’ or know someone inside.

Oh, and that’s before we get on to the Amazon Firestick stuff. OK, let’s go there. It is amazing really, when you think about it. You know, the fact a likely considerable percentage of UK piracy happens courtesy of doctorered hardware produced by one of the Premier League’s trusted broadcasters.

Anyway, I digress. The Middle East and piracy in the MENA region, particularly Saudi Arabia is what really matters.

They were actually kept on said watchlist, as reported last month, but it marked a shift in approach by the same Premier League who claimed the kingdom was a “centre for piracy” to the same body 12 months previous.

So, what’s changed? And what does this mean, if anything, for the Newcastle United takeover by investors-in-waiting the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Reuben Brothers and Amanda Staveley-led PCP Capital Partners?

Some would say little, others claim lots.

Rolling the clock back to the summer of 2020, even before the Saudi ‘pull out’, sources close to the deal were unequivocal in their stance when it came to piracy – it was not a big deal. Some very well placed sources even suggested the issue had been dealt with already in conversations between buyer and institutional body, via the seller.

But this is where it all becomes very nuanced. Ask other sources and they’ll tell you something very different. Their view is the tie up and separation arguments about KSA and PIF and the influence one plays over the other – around which the upcoming arbitration will be fought – are entangled in the sail ropes of piracy. Indelibly knotted together.

Name KSA as a director – as the Premier League do not think PIF and their directors are autonomous and believe they cannot make autonomous decisions – then piracy can be used as a legitimate reason for blocking the deal. Think beoutQ.

Believe the first theory then this arbitration is purely an argument about whose name is above the door. Look into the second and it becomes clear why piracy is such a fraught battle ground when it comes to the considerations in this particular Premier League ownership deal.

Piracy matters. Of course it does. It is illegal. A careening of the bows is paramount to those who’ve suffered in its grasp. It matters more than most to the Premier League, though. Their stance, although admirably chivalrous, is outside of the norm. They protect the interests of the buyers of their rights beyond the purchase, even when they’ve got back what they wanted from the transaction. They’d call it future-proofing, I suppose.

After last year’s slaps on the wrist, the Saudis have been baby-stepping their way out of the dark ages and bandit country, into the modern world when it comes to this subject.

Have the Premier League seen that and softened their stance?

Truthfully it is impossible to know. But any steps in the right direction – there is *some* accountability on the piracy front in Saudi now, with news laws passed to condemn and efforts made to prevent the act – can only be seen as a positive thing. The hard-walled barriers that presented themselves 12 months ago are slowly being eroded. Things are getting better in the region, slowly but surely, and that can not only be a positive for the league themselves. According to the recent PA report, Mike Ashley sees it that way, too.

Is piracy all it seems when it comes to NUFC and a takeover? Depends who you choose to believe. But, in my opinion, whatever your thoughts on the significance of recent developments, a Saudi move away from the Republic of Pirates is impossible not to welcome – and difficult to see in a dark light.

Land ahoy? Maybe, just maybe.

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