BeIN catches cricket bug with MENA deal for Australia games starting with Ashes
By Simon Ward
BeIN Media Group, the international pay-television sports broadcaster, is making its first venture into cricket coverage after acquiring rights in the Middle East and North Africa to top-level matches played in Australia for the next six years.
The agreement comes into effect for the upcoming Ashes test match series between Australia and England and includes all Australia home fixtures and the domestic Big Bash League and Women’s Big Bash League Twenty20 competitions until the end of the 2022-23 season.
It is being proclaimed as Cricket Australia’s biggest-ever cricket deal in MENA where the sport has a significant following because of the sizeable expatriate communities, including more than 8 million Indians, with the matches to have a potential audience of up to 66 million viewers on BeIN Sports channels across the region.
The 24 territories covered by the contract include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco.
Previous Ashes series have been shown by OSN, another Middle East-based pay-television platform.
It will be the first time that Qatar-based BeIN shows cricket although the company recently demonstrated its interest in the sport by offering the highest individual bid of Rs3.9 billion ($60 million) for the rights in the MENA region to the Indian Premier League for the next five years.
It was only denied access to the world’s most high-profile Twenty20 competition by a successful global bid of Rs163.5 billion from Star India.
In recent years, OSN has been the dominant broadcaster of cricket in the MENA region, and indeed it retains rights to International Cricket Council events in an eight-year deal running to 2023.
However, OSN now faces a significant rival in BeIN, which will offer Australian cricket in HD on its subscription TV channels and online, with the promise of coverage in Ultra HD on its new 4K channel in the coming years.
In addition to the five-test Ashes series, which starts in Brisbane on 23 November, BeIN will have rights to prominent series including South Africa's tour of Australia in 2018, India's visit in 2018-19 and the Ashes in 2021-22.
The deal builds on recent renewals by BeIN, including the retention of rights to soccer’s Uefa Champions League and Europa League for a further three years, until the end of the 2020-21 season.
Yousef Al-Obaidly, the deputy chief executive of BeIN, said: “It is important that we deliver on our promise to broadcast the very best global sports and events, and this is yet another significant milestone on this journey.
“The audience for cricket in the Middle East and North Africa is growing at an unprecedented pace, and viewers are rightly demanding better, more comprehensive, in-depth coverage. We are delighted that Cricket Australia has chosen to partner with beIN and we will guarantee cricket fans across the region access to high quality cricket coverage.”
CA chief executive James Sutherland added: “We are delighted to welcome beIN to the cricket family and know their viewers will enjoy the range of quality cricket content on offer in Australia each season.
“The Ashes is the perfect start for their partnership with us, and with the impending introduction of a Test championship and a new ODI league, beIN cricket fans will only benefit from international cricket’s new structure and greater context.”
Other new broadcasters for the upcoming Ashes include BT Sport, the UK pay-TV operator, which is also showing the ongoing Women's Ashes series.
The network is offering a free live stream of the Women's Ashes test match, which got under way in Sydney today. The coverage is available on the BT Sport app and on BTSport.com from now until Sunday.
Australian commercial free-to-air broadcaster Nine Network attracted sizeable audiences for the three one-day internationals, but, for financial reasons, is not showing the test match, which is only available in the host country on the CA website.
Finn Bradshaw, CA's head of digital, told ABC: "We've invested a six-figure sum in this broadcast. We wanted to make sure the broadcast quality was of the same standard that you see on the field."
Nine's coverage of the Women's Ashes resumes with the three Twenty20 internationals starting on 17 November, with the men's Ashes to follow.