The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has unilaterally terminated a media rights deal with global heavyweight BeIN Sports, with the latter now moving towards taking legal action.
BeIN received a notice from CAF on September 1, informing the Qatar-based broadcaster that the deal between the two – struck in 2017, worth in the region of $415 million, and covering over 40 countries (some of them in Africa) – was canceled, effective immediately.
BeIN, which for the last six years has been broadcasting CAF action in North Africa, amongst other markets, has been accused of breaching its contract with CAF, with the body having said it is owed outstanding payments, worth around $80 million.
In response, BeIN Media Group’s chief executive Yousef Al-Obaidly has written to CAF and its executive committee, saying his firm is “taking all necessary steps to defend [its] legal position.”
Obaidly has said that “BeIN does not accept this termination and will take all necessary legal steps to challenge and overturn it,” and that “we have significant concerns that this major decision … may have been taken without the necessary scrutiny and approvals required under CAF’s internal regulations.”
The main issues behind the cancelation of the contract, GlobalData understands, relate to BeIN having repeatedly over the past two years requested an adjustment in terms of the fees owed to CAF, naming several matters which during that time have affected the value of the rights.
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These include the Covid-19 pandemic, which in some other cases has led to sports rightsholders issuing rebates to broadcasters (CAF has allegedly refused to issue these), as well as CAF changing the timings of its Cup of Nations competition in both 2021 and earlier this year.
BeIN is also unhappy with what it sees as a serious failure by CAF to properly tackle digital piracy, and the illegal streaming of BeIN’s content, across Africa.
GlobalData has been told that BeIN has sent a number of letters to CAF over the last two years in an attempt to resolve the situation, but that these have not been able to bring about constructive dialogue. CAF is understood to be continuing to demand the full value of the contract as agreed in 2017.
As well as countries in the Middle East and North Africa, BeIN also holds CAF rights in markets such as Asia, France, and the US.
Al-Obaidly’s letter goes on to claim that “for reasons we do not understand, our legitimate concerns have not been recognized so far,” and that “this is a contract to the approach taken to similar situations we have had with other soccer rightsholders."
This marks the second time in four years that CAF has attempted to unilaterally terminate a major TV rights deal, after doing so with the Lagardere Sports agency (now Sportfive) in November 2019. When that media rights deal was struck, it marked the largest in CAF’s history.
That led to CAF paying Lagardere $50 million in compensation (although the agency had initially pushed for $90 million), with BeIN likely to push for a similar value in damages.
A substantial degree of urgency is being lent to any resolution attempts by the fact that CAF has several major club and national team competitions coming up – its qualifying section for the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup begins tomorrow, while in November its Champions League and Confederation Cup club tournaments begin.
The newly launched Africa Football League (AFL) will begin in October, meanwhile, with the cancelation of the BeIN deal meaning that as of now, there is no headline broadcaster in place for what is meant to be a tournament to take African club soccer to the next level (although it will only feature eight teams).
The dates of the inaugural AFL, as well as the eight teams involved, were unveiled late last month.
While BeIN moves towards legal action, CAF’s own lawyers have been asked to start a process to recover what is reported as a substantial unpaid sum from BeIN.
GlobalData Sport has asked CAF for comment.