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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Conspiracies and contracts: Turkish football club takes on beIN sports


Fenerbahce and beIN Sports have been interlocked in a bitter dispute, with the Turkish football club telling the broadcaster to ‘beFair’.

For Turkish football team Fenerbahce, the last straw in an ongoing clash with beIN Media Group was the sound of a chant heard during a broadcast of a game that did not involve the club itself.

The chant, loaded with profanities against one of Turkey’s largest and richest football clubs, prompted Fenerbahce to publish a scathing letter to the Qatar-based broadcaster on its website, moving the dispute into a more public domain.

Since the beginning of the season; We have warned the broadcaster several times at the highest level due to its decisions and approaches that exceed its limits and conveyed to them that our only expectation was an ‘objective, fair, impartial’ policy in a way that suits the broadcaster,” the letter said. 

“However, this latest incident has completely shown that all consecutive events are a technical error, etc. 

“Trying to explain it with rhetoric is to mock the mind of the Fenerbahçe community. In this direction, we, as Fenerbahçe Sports Club, inform our community and the public that we will react to this situation, which is the preference of the broadcaster, in a persistent and determined manner, at any level of relationship,” the letter added. 

How it started

The chant incident was not the first. beIN Sports has been criticised by Fenerbahce and its fans since Turkish football returned to television screens post Covid-19, with the club accusing the network of an “anti-Fenerbahce agenda”.

The Turkish team has even gone as far as slating the broadcaster for Video-Assistant Referee [VAR] judgements, despite the fact that beIN, as a broadcaster, has no responsibility nor connection with officiating decisions on the pitch.

Bizarrely, the club also says camera angles and highlights chosen by the Qatar-based broadcaster are intentionally chosen to present its players in an unfavourable light. 

BeIN strongly denies those claims.

Protest erupts

But the latest incident involving the chant appears to have broken the camel’s back. 

Just one day after the broadcast, Fenerbahce players refused to discuss their 3-0 win against BB Erzurumspor and instead used the opportunity to criticise beIN Sports.  

The club also posted a photo on Twitter showing their players wearing “beFAIR” on their football shirts, which was also seen blasted across pitchside advertisements during a practice session. 

In response, beIN Sports took legal action against the club for breach of intellectual property and accused it of wordplay on the beIN Sports logo. 

“We will take whatever legal action necessary to protect our rights. As we have shown before, we take an uncompromising approach to the protection of IP, not least because it is the economic foundation of football,” a beIN Sports spokesperson said. 

Unaffordable dispute

However, the issue between the club and beIN Media Group could have greater repercussions beyond the tit-for-tat PR altercation, and it is safe to say tensions between the two entities could not have come at a worse time for Turkish football as a whole. 

BeIN Sports currently owns the media rights for the league, having signed a five year $500 million contract in 2017 for exclusive multi-platform broadcasting.

With a potential new rights contract on the table for the Turkish league, questions have surfaced as to whether beIN Sports will stay in the running for the new contract. 

For Turkish clubs, the loss of revenue from a beIN Sports media rights contract could be incredibly detrimental, especially when several teams, including Fenerbahce, are in debt. 

Failed peace-making attempts

While Fenerbahce has made it clear that it is unlikely to back down, beIN Sports has been eager to make amends.

The Qatar-based broadcaster was quick to apologise to Fenerbahce after the chants were exposed in January. The apology, however, did nothing to quell the anger of the club and its supporters.

Instead, conspiracies emerged with Fenerbahce nit-picking on the timing it was issued: 7:05pm or ‘1905’, which it said was the founding year of its greatest rival, Galatasaray. To the club, even the apology seemed to serve as confirmation of the network’s agenda.

The broadcaster also conducted a probe into the chants incident and found that the broadcast was due to human error. Two employees were fired as a result, both of which turned out to be Fenerbahce fans – adding yet more ammo to an already angered club. 

“It would be too naïve to consider all these consecutive incidents as honest human mistakes,” Fenerbahce said in comments it attributed to its secretary general, Burak Caglan Kizilhan. “We believe our arguments are extremely valid and concerning.”

Bewildered beIN responded with its own statement, questioning why it would “deliberately try to disenfranchise one of the biggest clubs in Turkey?” 

“It doesn’t make any sense, commercially or otherwise,” a beIN Media Group spokesman said of Fenerbahce’s accusations.

The fight continues

Despite ongoing conversations between Fenerbahce and Rashed Al Marri, the man in charge of the broadcaster’s operations in Turkey, and Fenerbahce, little progress has been made. 

In January, the Turkish Soccer Federation’s Chairman Nihat Ozdemir weighed in on the debacle in favour of the broadcaster.

The Turkish footballing official said he did not believe the anti-Fenerbahce sentiments were deliberately aired, making it clear that the beIN Sports contract was important to the federation.

The relationship between beIN and Turkish football is mutually beneficial, he noted.

However, the club remains adamant on putting up a fight. On Thursday, Fenerbahce’s stadium was decorated with fresh protest slogans against beIN, despite a Turkish court ruling it must “cease” its manipulation of beIN branding. 

“Fenerbahce cannot be challenged,” one sign read.

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