Less than one month before the start of the 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships in Qatar, it seems there will be little or no radio coverage of this top handball event, and even TV coverage will not be as widespread as for past events. In December 2013, Qatari television broadcaster Al Jazeera acquired the worldwide media rights for both the men’s and women’s World Handball Championships in 2015 and 2017. It is understood that Al Jazeera paid at least €83 million for the rights, which was an enormous increase as rights UFA was awarded the rights for these events in 2011 and 2013 for €49 million.
The deal with Al Jazeera poses serious problems for many territories. The broadcaster (beIN Sports) is not present in all territories that usually broadcast handball on TV. The process for signing sublicensing agreements has been painfully slow. At the time of writing, deals have been signed with Eurosport Nordic (Scandinavia), SBS Discovery Media (Sweden), TV2 (Norway), RTVS (Slovenia) and TVP (Poland). Early December 2014, German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF pulled out of talks to acquire the rights of the men’s 2015 World Championships. At this moment, it is unlikely German viewers will be able to watch the event on TV. And there is also no deal yet for Spain.
For radios, the situation is even worse. Even though Al Jazeera itself does not operate any radio networks, it still is in possession of the radio rights. The same problem arose when the media rights for the 2012 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments were sold to Al Jazeera. The European Broadcasting Union highlighted this problem to the IHF in March 2012. And after the media rights contract for the 2015-2017 cycle was signed, the EBU radio community (EURORADIO) has unsuccessfully tried to conclude a tailor made (non-exclusive radio rights + non-equipped radio commentary position) agreement with Al Jazeera/beIN Sports. The talks went on for over four months, but they did not produce a result. Even though EURORADIO’s offer was in line with past agreements, beIN Sports considered the offer “very low”. The IHF may have concluded a lucrative media deal, but it is clear that coverage of its prime event will be much more limited than in previous editions. In the past decades, European radios have always covered the major international tournaments, and there have never been any problems with radio coverage of the European Championships. EURORADIO has been in touch with the IHF to make them aware of the problem, but its response was disappointing:
“We would like to inform you that the Radio rights are under the sole responsibility of our partner beIN Sports and that beIN is working with the agency “Pitch international”. We are in contact with our rights holder to facilitate and accelerate the selling process and have informed them about the high interest of the IHF of having a good and extensive radio coverage with reliable partners, but eventually they have the final decision on the sales and distribution procedures.”
We feel that this development is harmful for the sport. The IHF may have significantly increased its income, but the promotion of the sport and its prime event is obviously suffering. Meanwhile, the IHF has invited an average of ten media representatives from each country taking part in the 2015 World Championships, with all travel and accommodation costs covered.
This was a very confusing message, as it was also sent to radios that do not have the rights (yet) for the event. It is clear that the conduct of the IHF does little to enhance the image of the sport. As for the World Championships in Qatar, radios may be forced to do the commentary from their studio back home, or even be forced to drop live commentary altogether. As for the future, the other three World Championships covered by the contract with Al Jazeera are all held in Europe. One of them will be in France, where radio rights are forbidden by law (Loi Lamour)! And finally, this problem will certainly be added to the AIPS Europe petition on the right to inform about sports events. This petition is currently being examined by three Committees of the European Parliament.