Newcastle United Deal Chances Lifted by End of Saudi, Qatar Spat
(Bloomberg) -- A takeover of historic U.K. soccer team Newcastle United FC by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund could be back on, with the kingdom said to be close to removing a major obstacle to the deal.
Saudi Arabia is close to formally lifting a ban on BeIn Media Group, according to a person familiar with the matter. A decision could come as soon as the coming weeks, allowing BeIn to begin selling subscriptions to its sports content in the kingdom, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information. Talks are ongoing and could still fall apart, they said.
Any move to lift the ban would ease a possible takeover of Newcastle United by an investor group led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. BeIN has been a major opponent of such a deal, arguing to the U.K. Premier League clubs that the ban in Saudi Arabia and alleged piracy of its content in the region was doing massive damage to sports rights holders.
The PIF group, which also included English financier Amanda Staveley and the British billionaire brothers Simon and David Reuben, abandoned a proposed 300 million-pound ($407 million) takeover of Newcastle United in July 2020, blaming the decision on a prolonged approval process and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The consortium had been waiting for approval from the Premier League on their suitability as owners.
BeIn would no longer object to a takeover if the ban in Saudi Arabia is lifted, the person said.
A representative for the Premier League, which has one of its largest broadcast contracts with BeIn, declined to comment on whether the ban in Saudi Arabia might soon be lifted. Representatives for BeIn and the PIF couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
BeIn holds the rights to broadcast some of the world’s biggest sporting events, including the UEFA Champions League soccer tournament, across the Middle East and North Africa. It was banned in neighboring Saudi Arabia following a souring of relations between the kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in 2017. BeIn later accused Saudi Arabia of allowing the pirating of its content through a channel called BeoutQ, something the latter denied.
Newcastle United is one of the best-supported teams in England and regularly draws crowds of more than 50,000 to its stadium in the northeast of the country. Fans of the club, who have become disillusioned by perceived mismanagement under billionaire owner Mike Ashley, have hoped for a new owner to invest in players and make the team more competitive. Newcastle United has not won a major trophy for more than 50 years.
The Newcastle takeover had attracted criticism from Amnesty International, which wanted the deal blocked because of its concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
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