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The Unbearable Shiteness of beIN

The author Neil Gaiman was in Vancouver last week. Amongst the many books he has written, he has also penned a couple of episodes of Doctor Who. One of the questions asked to him was did he plan to write any more episodes. He said he’d love to, if only the producers of the show could pay him in time and not money.

I feel like that about watching football right now. There’s just not enough hours in the day it seems to take in all the live games and highlights I’m wanting to watch, never mind all the other stuff between games.

I need more time.

But yet I also want more football on my television screen. The English Football League to be exact. Standing in my way, and the way of many other fans, is beIN SPORT.

And it’s not just supporters of the English Football League that are getting more and more angry by the situation. Fans of La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1, for whom beIN also hold the English speaking broadcasting rights, are also up in arms, and the first two sets of supporters are by far the most vocal and greater in number.
For those that don’t know, beIN Sport is a network of sports channels that is affiliated to Al Jazeera and they have become a big player in the television rights to football worldwide since 2011. They are already established in the US, France and Indonesia. They hope to be in more countries, including here in Canada, but for now they are not, despite buying up the television rights for many different football leagues, cups, tournaments and other sports.

For a television company that hopes to attract viewers if they ever do launch in Canada, they are doing a very good job at pissing off their potential customers to an extent where many won’t give them a penny out of principle.

Trying to get answers out of beIN SPORT is like trying to get a song from a mime and like mimes, they are simply annoying everyone.

We sent them emails on July 23rd and August 6th and have still to get a response. Search for them on Twitter and you will see a constant stream of people asking them what’s happening with the channel or their rights in Canada, all without any reply.

They have previously replied in the past saying that they are working on the issue and address it briefly on the FAQ section of their website:

<i>"beIN SPORT is currently negotiating agreements to offer its network in the Canadian market. Please contact your cable TV, telco or satellite provider and let them know you want the beIN SPORT networks in Canada today."</i>

Such pressure seldom works. I’ve asked Telus for several things over the years, with no results. Gol TV broadcast in HD and SportsnetWorld Plus being available online being two of them.

Some of the online speculation and finger pointing has been at the CRTC, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that is responsible for the regulatory agency for broadcasting and telecommunications.

But are they responsible? Have they been turning down beIN’s applications to operate here?

A quick search of the CRTC website shows no mention of BeIN Sport/Al Jazeera being rejected for a sports channel in Canada. Very strange, so the only way to find out was to ask the CRTC themselves for some clarification.

The reply we got from Media Relations Officer Guillaume Castonguay was fascinating and put a whole new spin on the proceedings:

<i>"We are not aware of any contacts between the CRTC and BeIN Sport.

"It does not appear that they have filed an application to launch a Canadian channel, nor that a distributor has applied to add their channel to the list of non-Canadian programming services authorized for distribution."</i>

The latter is another way for beIN to break in. Canadian television providers can add beIN SPORT to their channel packages but under CRTC rules <i>"Providers of these foreign services must not hold, nor try to obtain, nor exercise, preferential or exclusive programming rights in relation to the distribution of programming in Canada"</i>, which by my reading would make it impossible for their US station to be show here unless as Canadian channel also gets to show some of the action.

So no applications kind of puts a stop to any idea that they are about to launch themselves here in the immediate future and it will be a long process if/when they finally do apply or get someone wanting to add them to their package of services, so don’t go holding your breath to subscribe. Or watching the games you want to watch on your TV here.

They could of course take over another existing channel and in the early days there were a lot of rumours online about the possibility of them acquiring a station such as EuroWorld Sport. We asked the CRTC about these rumours but they <i>"are also not aware of any application to acquire EuroWorld Sport."</i>

So where does this leave us?

Well, with a television channel that has the rights to broadcast various football leagues in Canada, but without the medium for doing so and without any signs that this situation is going to change any time soon.

None of which is good for the fans of the teams that play in the leagues and all the other potential viewers at home.

Such a situation is also detrimental to the leagues themselves. They may have the money in the bank, but surely the whole point of selling media rights it to grow their product, help their clubs and actually let people see the football on offer by legal means.

The affected leagues can’t be happy you would think, but after speaking to the English Football League, the impression you get is that they aren’t all that concerned, or at least not publically.

We reached out to the Football League to see how they felt about the farce, to alert them to the situation if they were unaware, ask whether they knew beIN didn’t have a Canadian channel when they sold them the rights and how they felt about fans having to turn to illegal internet streams and downloads to watch their action.

After a couple of email exchanges with Public Affairs Executive Peter Hannon, my questions were passed to the Head of Media Rights. It was a bit of a wait but we finally got the response below from a 'Football League spokesperson':

<i>"The Football League’s international broadcast rights are distributed exclusively outside of the UK by Pitch International, a rights agency. Currently the Sky Bet Football League and Capital One Cup matches are broadcast in over 170 countries across the globe.

"In the USA and Canada, Pitch International have sublicensed the rights to beIN Sport, who also broadcast the Football League in France, and in the Middle East through Al Jazeera Sports. Whilst they currently have no presence to broadcast matches in Canada, this partnership has four years remaining and they hope to be in a position to show live Football League games in Canada at the earliest possible opportunity."</i>

Not exactly very helpful towards a satisfactory resolution to the main problem, this response was before the reply from the CRTC, so we have now passed on their response to the Football League and we'll see if they want to react further.

Of course, they already have their money, from this deal and others, so why should they care if anybody in Canada can actually watch their product? We're being facetious, hopefully, but maybe they will put pressure on beIN to find a solution very quickly and avoid any more bad publicity or accusations about not caring about their teams' supporters.

When fans are unable to see their teams play on their television screens, the natural alternative is to seek other means to watch them and a number turn to dodgy internet streams of matches and download sites, something you would think the football leagues would be doing everything to avoid happening.

You don’t have to try very hard to find live streams of English, La Liga and Serie A games online. There are also a number of download sites that let you download matches whilst the pea in referee’s full time whistle is still warm.

Those with a bit of tech savvy can use proxy sites that allow access to the BBC iPlayer where you can watch the highlights programme <i>The Football League Show</i> every week, live or on demand.

Hardcore fans will find a way, but this isn’t just about them and the inconvenience they are put to. The casual fan can’t watch these teams or the leagues and that’s one of the main points of securing a television deal surely. How can you grow your product and attract new fans if people can’t see it or find out about it?

The new English Premiership season will be starting on Saturday. I wonder how many people in Canada know anything about the players of Cardiff, Hull or Crystal Palace since they couldn't watch their games last season.

The various football leagues have clearly not lost out too much with this farce. After all they have pocketed the money and you could argue that pissed off Canadian supporters aren’t exactly at the top of their lists for keeping the paying public sweet. Many here want to see their team and will support that team no matter how they’ve been messed around by the authorities. It’s instilled. It doesn't make it acceptable.

Canadian broadcasting laws are strict regarding new stations and owners. It was either very naïve or very presumptuous of Al Jazeera/beIN to expect to just walk into the marketplace, if that was indeed the case. Surely proper due diligence should have alerted them to such potential problems, or did they not really care as long as they got into the US?

Now they may have got the runaround from people, or had promises broken, we don’t know of course because beIN won’t talk to us about it. It’s hard to have any sympathy for a company that won’t communicate with their potential customers. It’s also hard to have sympathy for them when they won’t sublease the rights or launch an online channel. Maybe they are not allowed to, but again we don’t know and they won't tell us.

Gol TV have made it very clear that they are interested in re-obtaining the rights to La Liga.

If beIN SPORT ever launches in Canada, they need to do a lot of groveling to get their potential customers back on their side and nothing but a sweet launch pricing deal will be acceptable. For many, myself included, they’ve burned too many bridges and personally it will take a lot for me to give them a penny of my money now.

Even those in the US have trouble watching the channel and it's not available in all areas and those areas that can receive it, sometimes can't get all of the channels they offer.

So after weeks of working on this, we’re no further forward and if anything, the CRTC reply has diminished the faint hope we had of seeing these leagues on our television screens any time soon.

The most damaged casualty in all of this is beIN SPORT's reputation. The most disappointing aspect is that the football authorities don't seem to care. But, as is usually the case, the most inconvenienced and the ones to suffer the most, are the fans.


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