Cup broadcasts: How Middle East misses an opportunity

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (C), widely dubbed the best player in the world, tries to dribble past Belgium’s Axel Witsel (R) and Toby Alderweireld during the two teams’ World Cup quarterfinal clash. AFP photo

The high pricing of the 2014 FIFA World Cup broadcasting rights by Qatari entities in the Middle East naturally creates a politically explosive situation in a football-crazy part of the world No matter how entrenched animosities in the Middle East may be, one principle is upheld by all: never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The controversy over access to broadcasts of World Cup matches makes that clear.

Pricing by Qataris holding World Cup rights for the Middle East and North Africa, including al-Jazeera’s beIN Sports channel, puts broadcasts beyond the reach of many fans in the region. Inevitably, that is a public issue in a football-crazy part of the world. Add into the mix Arab-Israeli animosity and hostility towards Qatar because of its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and the issue becomes politically explosive.

In Lebanon, high pricing commanded the attention of a Cabinet preoccupied with shielding the ethnic and religious mosaic from further fallout of sectarian and jihadist violence in Syria and Iraq. In Egypt, Qatari pricing policy is like scoring an own goal. beIN Sports, charges $140 for World Cup matches; Egypt’s average monthly income is $360 a month.

Qatari pricing closed down an opportunity to try to win back hearts by ensuring that large numbers of people in the region would have affordable or free access to matches at a time that al-Jazeera is under fire for its alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood and has lost regional market share.

Al-Jazeera’s operations in Egypt have been shut down for much of the past year. Market research company Sigma Conseil reported last year that the network’s market share in Tunisia had dropped from 10.7 percent in...

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