In a bid to win American viewers, Qatar-based Al Jazeera has bought the rights to broadcast US football games in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup.
BeIN Sport, an Al Jazeera subsidiary that launched in Florida two weeks ago, has also paid to broadcast some of Europe’s most popular football matches in the U.S.
It may bid to show England’s Premier League games there too, the New York Times reports.
The move makes sense, insofar as football, one of the world’s most-watched sports, is starting to gain traction in the US (where it’s called soccer). But how the network will be received and what its endgame in the American market is remains to be seen.
“The old dinosaurs are dying off, and the new sports fans are more than willing to accept soccer,” said Phil Schoen, an announcer who was hired by beIN Sport after stints at ESPN and GolTV. “It’s not just the ethnics, soccer moms and urban singles. To make such a commitment really says something about how beIN Sport feels about the future of the sport in this country.”
…Longer term, the question many television executives are asking is what Al Jazeera and the Qataris hope to accomplish with beIN Sport. Are they trying to tap the seemingly unending interest in soccer and sports? Are they trying to promote Qatar ahead of the World Cup in 2022? Or do they want to use beIN Sport as a wedge to get cable and satellite providers to carry Al Jazeera’s news channel, which has had trouble getting carried in the United States because, some suggest, of the hostility to the network’s programming?
Some analysts say it looks likely that economic incentives will help Al Jazeera overcome any trouble its had making inroads into the American market in the past.
Cable operators are not as reluctant to do business with Al Jazeera as people think, Rob Tilliss, a sports consultant told the NYT. “It’s a commercial relationship, and the more I go over there, the more I realize that,” he said. “At the end of the day, their objectives are basically the same.”
Credit: Photo courtesy of BeIN Sport’s Facebook page