The English football authorities approved the deal worth $380 million after nearly two years of negotiations.
This time, however, the Premier League has received a “legally binding assurance” that the club will not technically be controlled by the Saudi crown, but by a sovereign-wealth fund. Although the difference appears to be minor, people close to the transaction said it had put the deal on hold for more than a year. The club’s non-executive chairman will be Yasser Al-Rumayyan, head of the Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed.
The transaction, first reported in early 2020 by Businesshala, has been one of the toughest in Premier League history, with objections from human rights groups and camps as diverse as the state of Qatar.
A major obstacle was opposition from Qatar’s national sports broadcaster BeIN Sport. BeIN accused Saudi Arabia of running a state-backed piracy operation to steal its contents. The broadcaster is one of the largest buyers of television rights to the Premier League, spending approximately $500 million for the most recent three-year cycle of television rights for the Middle East and North Africa region. As part of Qatar’s diplomatic boycott of Saudi Arabia, BeIN was banned from working in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia reversed its position on Wednesday as officials indicated it would lift a ban on beIN’s content, which was the broadcaster’s main objection to the Newcastle takeover, according to a person familiar with its thinking.
The Premier League supported BeIN by submitting evidence of piracy in Saudi Arabia to the World Trade Organization. But as soon as the Saudi-led group struck a deal with the league, it informed BeIN that it would be given a license to broadcast inside the kingdom. Viewers in Saudi should arrive in time to see what will be Newcastle’s first match under Saudi ownership against Tottenham Hotspur on 17 October via legitimate channels.
The revival of the transaction is a coup for Saudi Arabia as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman puts sports and entertainment at the center of national economic and social transformation. The Premier League is broadcast in over 200 countries and territories and has already been used as a shop window by many of Saudi’s neighbors in the Gulf, including a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family in 2008. Manchester City was acquired and the Dubai-based Emirates airline is becoming a major sponsor of Arsenal.
“It’s a long-term investment,” Staveley said. “Our ambition is to engage with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that regularly competes for major trophies and generates pride around the world.”
How long Saudi can get a foothold in the Premier League remains to be seen. Newcastle have struggled in recent seasons under their deeply unpopular boss Mike Ashley. The club currently sits in 19th place with zero wins after seven games and will be in danger of demotion to the second tier of English football.
Yet on a geopolitical level, the deal for a football team in the northeast of England is also a victory for the Saudi crown prince’s recent strategy of engaging diplomatically with opponents such as Qatar and Iran.
Riyadh reopened its airspace and land and sea borders to Qatar earlier this year, and signed an agreement to end a three-year-old blockade of the small Gulf state. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accused Doha of supporting terrorism and allying with Iran in 2017, a charge Qatar denied. But in addition to broadcasting BeIN Sports, Riyadh will also host Qatar-owned club Paris Saint-Germain in an exhibition game later this year.
Qatar’s objection to the Newcastle deal was not the only obstacle. Human rights advocates argued that the lead by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, the main investment vehicle for Prince Mohammed, would be designed to whitewash the kingdom’s global image following the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
During the six months of the deal’s investigation, the Premier League has not commented on its criteria for signing the deal and has never formally ruled out the union. But its “trial of owners and directors” disqualifies investors for “an offense involving any act that may reasonably be deemed dishonest” or “a similar offense directly in foreign jurisdiction,” according to the league’s handbook. Gives league power to do.
Rights groups had argued that the language gave the football governing body too much latitude to reject the takeover.
Amnesty International said in a letter to the Premier League: “The Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a maniac for those who wish to use the glamor and prestige of Premier League football to cover up the actions who are deeply immoral.”
Write to Joshua Robinson at [email protected], said Over the Summer.