The Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC) takeover fans hoped would go through last year has been confirmed. Recent reports discussed why the deal fell through last time and what has changed. The purchase brings an end to Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership of the North Yorkshire club. However, despite the vast majority of the Toon Army being in favor of the takeover, many observers question the move. Given Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses, is this a case of blissful ignorance?
Why did the previous NUFC takeover attempt fail?
Last year, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – along with British investors Amanda Staveley and David and Simon Reuben attempted to buy NUFC. The PIF would own 80% of the club, while Staveley and the Reubens would each own 10%. However, the Premier League failed to approve the deal. But why? The primary concern was whether the Saudi government would directly own the club, but the kingdom’s business ties with pirate broadcasting also played a part.
The saga revolved primarily around beIN Sport and beoutQ. beIN Sport – a Qatari company – is the PL’s official broadcasting partner in the Middle East. The Saudi government, however, had been blocking beIN Sport from operating within the kingdom, while simultaneously supporting beoutQ’s pirate broadcasts of the PL. In 2018, Qatar filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the beIN Sport ban in Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s support of beoutQ. Last year, the WTO ruled in their favor, “[ruling] that Saudi Arabia helped breach international piracy laws in relation to the beoutQ [operation]” (The Athletic).
In addition to Saudi Arabia’s nefarious business ties with pirate broadcasters, public outcry over the deal also helped scupper the deal. The PIF is chaired by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). As most people will know, MBS was accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an exiled Saudi journalist. Understandably, the idea of an accused criminal owning NUFC made many people uneasy.
Why did this NUFC takeover succeed?
beIN Sport had been the biggest opponent of the Saudi-led purchase of NUFC. Last year, the chief executive of beIN Sport, Yousef al-Obaidly, wrote a letter to the chairs of PL clubs. In it, he “accused the Saudi Arabian government of the ‘facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights — and in turn your club’s commercial revenues — through its backing of the huge-scale beoutQ pirate service’” (The Athletic). With the Saudi government’s recent reversal of the beIN Sport ban, the Qatari company has changed tune, no longer standing in the way of the takeover.
At news of the purchase, Magpie fans are buzzing. After all, the number one complaint among the Toon Army has been a lack of sufficient investment by the ownership. With the PIF’s estimated $500 billion, there will certainly be no shortage of spending power. Moral of the story: money talks.