Revealed! Full details of the Newcastle United takeover letter sent by Qatar's beIN Sports urging Premier League clubs to pressure decision-makers to 'interrogate' deal

Qatar-based media chief Yousef Al-Obaidly actively urged a number of Premier League clubs, in a private letter, to pressure decision-makers to 'interrogate' the Newcastle United takeover deal.

Monday, 4th January 2021, 7:08 pm

The beIN Media Group chief executive officer’s letter, which was first reported on in April 2020, now seen in full, ‘strongly suggests’ clubs “fully interrogate this deal, and ask the Premier League to do the same, as a matter of urgency”.

While clubs going over details of the £300million deal itself does not necessarily breach Premier League owners’ and directors’ test rules – although it does open up confidentiality issues - any pressure applied to the top flight board by shareholders on this matter would be against test protocol.

The Premier League board alone, without influence from its 20 shareholders, is tasked with making any decision on change of ownership.

Yousef al-Obaidly, president de BeIN Sports France, attends the UEFA Champions League group A football match between Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG) and Shakhtar Donetsk at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on December 8, 2015.

When asked for guidance on the application of the test by the Premier League, the Gazette was told the test was objectively applied, not subjectively, and that facts in the case were used to determine outcomes not emotions or potential outside influences.

Despite months of test back and forth no formal determination was made on the switch of ownership from Mike Ashley to the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Reuben Brothers and PCP Capital Partners.

It is not known how many clubs were in receipt of Al-Obaidly’s letter but Newcastle United were not. It is also understood a number of other non-so-called ‘big six’ clubs did not get the letter either.

The Premier League, in correspondence seen by the Gazette, have confirmed the existence of the letter and its nature.

They have, however, publicly denied any outside body had an influence on their application of the owners’ and directors’ test in relation to Newcastle United’s takeover.

In August, chief executive Richard Masters said: “The owners’ and directors’ test is delegated to and carried out entirely by the Premier League Board. Other member clubs have no role whatsoever in the approval process.”

The letter, which can be read in full below, forms part of evidence being used in anti-competition legal actions against the Premier League at present.

It is being presented as ‘collective lobbying’, where an organisation, in this case beIN, lobbies more than 25% of a market, the Premier League clubs, to the detriment of the investment and growth of another, Newcastle United, with whom they have a conflict of interest.

The letter, signed off by Al-Obaidly, points the finger squarely at Saudi Arabia and allegations of the kingdom’s ruling elite’s reported support for piracy in the Middle East and North Africa region as reason for the deal to be given special treatment by clubs.

In June, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) published a damning report into allegations of TV piracy in Saudi Arabia. The WTO drew a link between “individuals or entities” under the jurisdiction of the Saudi state and beoutQ, a pirate TV station which has illegally broadcast Premier League games and other sporting events in the kingdom. Allegations from Qatar, prompted the investigation, which was set up in late 2018.

On beoutQ, a now defunct pirate pay television broadcaster available in Saudi Arabia, and piracy, the letter signed off by Al-Obaidly states: “Since the beginning, the Saudi Arabia government – the very acquirer of Newcastle United – has fully backed and facilitated the operation of the service.”

It continues: “It is within this context that I strongly and urgently suggest that you request the Premier League to fully investigate the potential acquirer of Newcastle United, including all directors, officers and other representatives from the KSA PIF or other Saudi Arabian entities involved in or otherwise providing any financing for the acquisition – including (but not limited to) the open and uncompromising application of the Owners’ and Directors’ Test. There appear to be several reasons why such an investigation is being called for by other parties’; however, my request is purely based on the Saudi Arabia government’s role in the past and continuing theft of the commercial interests of your club, the Premier League, all its broadcast partners and football in general – which, I think you would agree, simply cannot go ignored. It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake.”

BeIN recently penned a new, extended Premier League rights deal for the MENA region, worth a reported $500million to the top flight, despite no public resolution to the banning of beIN coverage in Saudi.

When contacted by the Gazette, beIN Media Group were unavailable for comment.

The Yousef Al-Obaidly letter in full...

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you as the Chief Executive of beIN MEDIA GROUP, one of the Premier League’s largest worldwide broadcast partners and, consequently, one of the largest investors in English football.

Over recent days, media are reporting on the potential acquisition of a Premier League club – Newcastle United Football Club – by a group backed by the Saudi Arabia government via its Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (KSA PIF). In light of the Saudi Arabia government’s facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights – and in turn your club’s commercial revenues – through its backing of the huge scale beoutQ pirate service, I would strongly suggest that you fully interrogate this deal, and ask the Premier League to do the same, as a matter of urgency.

The industrial-scale theft of the Premier League’s and its clubs’ intellectual property by Saudi Arabia is, sadly, now notorious. The Saudi operation called “beoutQ” has been the largest and most sophisticated sports piracy service ever seen. To recap on the operation originally exposed by The New York Times (see also Annex 3 – which includes the opinion of the UK Minister of State of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), the vast majority of the 380 live Premier League matches in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons were broadcast live and wholly illegally on the Saudi beoutQ channels and distributed via the Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, across both Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region. Throughout this period, beoutQ operated as a full-scale pay-tv business, transmitting 10 HD live sports channels via satellite and featuring a huge volume of live and delayed Premier League programming – see just one of many examples in Annex 1, where Newcastle United’s commercial rights are being stolen.

Although the beoutQ branded channels themselves are no longer available, the huge number of beoutQ set-top-boxes now installed in Saudi Arabia and other MENA countries continue to facilitate access to 100s of other international sports channels through streaming IPTV apps, including the channels of the majority of worldwide Premier League broadcast licensees (including Sky Sports, BT Sport, NBC, ESPN, Canal+, NENT, DAZN and beIN SPORTS).

Since the beginning, the Saudi Arabia government – the very acquirer of Newcastle United – has fully backed and facilitated the operation of the service. Its operation within Saudi Arabia has been indisputably and repeatedly recognised by the US Government, the UK Government, the European Commission and every major football rights holder, including FIFA and UEFA. The Premier League itself, along with other major football rights-holders, has tried everything to stop the Saudi service, including trying to instruct 9 different law firms in Saudi Arabia, each of which either simply refused to act or initially accepted the instruction, only later to recuse themselves.

It is within this context that I strongly and urgently suggest that you request the Premier League to fully investigate the potential acquirer of Newcastle United, including all directors, officers and other representatives from the KSA PIF or other Saudi Arabian entities involved in or otherwise providing any financing for the acquisition – including (but not limited to) the open and uncompromising application of the Owners’ and Directors’ Test. There appear to be several reasons why such an investigation is being called for by other parties’; however, my request is purely based on the Saudi Arabia government’s role in the past and continuing theft of the commercial interests of your club, the Premier League, all its broadcast partners and football in general – which, I think you would agree, simply cannot go ignored. It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake.

I would like to state unequivocally that this request in no way criticises or bears any reflection whatsoever on the Premier League office or their management, who have done more than any single entity in world sport to combat Saudi Arabia’s operation; including legally, politically and technologically. The Premier League executive team – on behalf of you and all its member clubs – has committed more resource, time and expertise to protect the League’s intellectual property than any other league or indeed sport in the world. As an exemplar and without compromise, they have led the industry fight against Saudi Arabia’s commercial theft for nearly 3 years.

It is for this reason that beIN MEDIA GROUP is more committed than ever in supporting, promoting and partnering with the Premier League around the world. This request simply seeks to hold to account, on behalf of all broadcasters, those parties that have sought - and continue to seek - to undermine the Premier League and its member clubs

Yours sincerely,

Yousef Al-Obaidly

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