Quick thought

BeIn Sports’ Murky Future A Major Worry for U.S. Soccer Fans

Since 2012, beIN Sports has filled the gaps of soccer coverage in the U.S. left by the demise of Fox Soccer Channel.  The Al Jazeera Media Fund worldwide sports network shows in the U.S. La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, and Football League Championship matches (among others) and provides a platform for soccer personalities like Ray Hudson.  While the network is only carried in about 15% of U.S. cable households (in 2015), the media platform’s footprint has grown including an expanded streaming offering for some cable subscribers.  The most recent El Clasico garnered 1.8 million viewers between the English and Spanish channels, which was actually down from the 2.12 million from the March 2015 Barcelona/Real Madrid clash.

Despite the steady growth, there is a worrying change occurring in the background.  BeIN Sport is part of a media conglomerate essentially owned by the Emirate of Qatar, whose American media portfolio includes Al Jazeera America.  This month, it was announced that Al Jazeera America was shutting down in the spring, less than three years after launch.  While the network had a few major hits – including the major recent controversial report linking American athletes to a performance-enhancing drugs – the channel’s location, lack of HD, and lack of a core audience almost doomed it to failure.  Replacing Current TV, the producers never had the seed money or vision to either make a run at the established 24-hour cable news networks or ambitiously position themselves as investigative news outsiders, ala Vice.

Conversely, beIN Sports has a larger base of viewers, a market niche, and a plan to grow and at least gain viewers in the traditional television and new streaming markets.  However, the challenges to beIN’s business may come from factor’s beyond their control.  The seemingly endless wealth of the Qatari rulers has taken a hit recently with the plunge in global oil prices, as well as investment hits in companies like Volkswagen and Barclays.  According to Advanced Television, the worldwide beIN brand suffers almost €200m annually in losses, prompting the need for a potential buyer for the network or financial partner.

What does this mean for U.S. soccer fans? La Liga numbers alone suggest there is a market for what beIN offers in the U.S. so pulling it from the market today will not happen.  But as rights prices soar, does the network has the financial backing to create new content, hire top talent, and continue to bid for the leagues it currently shows?  Or, if it brings a new partner, could it actually expand, signing more streaming deals and challenging the major U.S. networks for even more league rights?

While beIN is not financially doomed like its financial brother Al Jazeera America, global economics and a bleak short term financial future for its parent company could see some changes for the soccer network for truly hardcore U.S. soccer fans.  Whether that’s positive or negative is to be seen.


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