By James M. Dorsey
Qatar’s Al Jazeera television network has bought the broadcasting rights of Egypt’s Premiere League for a meagre $2.6 million in a deal concluded with the Egyptian Football Association.
“We have reached an agreement with Al Jazeera that will enable it to broadcast the Egyptian League this season. They will begin airing the competition’s matches in the next round until the end,” EFA Chairman Samir Zaher told Egyptian entertainment website FilFan.com.
Mr. Zaher said the EFA was negotiating broadcast rights with three more pan-Arab broadcasters.
The deal boosts Al Jazeera’s efforts to significantly boost its soccer franchise. It follows the acquisition rights for 23 countries to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as well as its successful bid for some of rights to broadcast France’s top league. Al Jazeera joins several Egyptian satellite channels in the broadcasting of Egypt’s premier soccer competition.
Egypt boasts with crowned Cairo rivals Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek SC some of the Arab world and Africa’s most popular clubs. Al Ahly is believed to have some 50 million supporters.
Nonetheless, critics charge that Al Jazeera had paid peanuts for the Egyptian rights. They said one reason the Qatari broadcaster got the rights on the cheap is that cable television penetration in Egypt is low and that Al Jazeera’s competitors were free-to-air channels. As a result, they said few Egyptians were likely to get cable or subscribe to Al Jazeera to see the Egyptian matches.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.