Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition said on Tuesday it had permanently canceled the license of Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports; barred from broadcasting in the Kingdom since mid-2017.
In a statement on its website; the GAC said that it was also fining beIN Sports SR10mn for violations of the provisions of the Competition Law; through its involvement in monopolistic practices.
The GAC said it found beIN Sports abused its dominant position through several monopolistic practices. This is related to what it described as an exclusive sports broadcast bundle for the 2016 UEFA European Championship soccer matches.
GAC clarified that the decision is based on the tasks and competencies assigned to it in protecting and encouraging fair competition and combating monopolistic practices, as well as to achieve the principle of transparency.
The punitive action against beIN Sports was after conducting investigations into complaints against the channel. The probes concluded that beIN Sports had abused its dominant position through several monopolistic practices, harming the right of those wishing to watch the exclusive broadcast of the UEFA Championship.
The authority identified several violations, including forcing those, who wish to subscribe to watch the package, to subscribe to another package that includes non-sports channels; and forcing those wishing to subscribe to renew their subscription to their basic package for another full year, as a condition for viewing the Euro 2016 tournament, although their subscription period is valid and covers the period during which the said tournament was held.
The beIN Sports also included the costs of tournaments and sports that the subscribers may not want to follow; in the value of subscription in the sports channels themselves. And thus the subscribers are forced to bear additional costs within the value of the subscription.
According to the GAC, this is an explicit violation of the Competition Law and its executive regulations. Accordingly, the authority’s board of directors took the necessary measures to stop the practices. Besides, eliminating monopolistic violations committed by beIN Sports channel group. This is also with calculating the highest amount of fine stipulated in the Competition Law on a daily basis. This is to ensure the speedy removal of the damage caused to the beneficiaries of its services in the Kingdom.
However, beIN Sports channels failed to implement the provisions of the punitive measures taken and challenged this decision; before the Administrative Court in Riyadh. The court rejected the lawsuit filed by beIN Sports against the GAC. Eventually, the board of directors of the GAC decided to lodge a criminal suit; with the committee to examine and adjudicate violations of the provisions of the Competition Law against beIN Sport.
The committee ruled that beIN Sports had violated the Competition Law and its executive regulations. It also found that the Qatari company continued the violation; including its violation of paragraph 3 of Article 5 of the Competition Law; which stipulates that “an enterprise that enjoys a dominant position is prohibited from any practice that limits competition. This is in accordance with what the regulations determined, including the imposition of special requirements on sales or purchases.”
The committee also ruled that beIN Sports violated paragraph 10 of Article Seven of the executive regulations of the Competition Law; which stated that “an enterprise with a hegemonic position is prohibited from abusing the hegemony to prejudice, limit or prevent competition; including suspension of the sale of a good or provision of a service. This is by purchasing another commodity, or a specified quantity, or by requesting another service.”
Imposition of fines
The Administrative Court of First Instance and Appellate upheld the ruling of the committee and that included imposition of fines amounting to SR10 million against beIN Sports MENA; permanently canceling the license of the defendant company in the Kingdom; obliging the defendant to return all the gains made as a result of the violation, and publishing the decision at its expense.
GAC called on all the concerned authorities and the private sector to contribute to promoting legitimate competition in the market. This is for broadcasting and transmitting sports tournaments and encouraging consumer choices. This is in a way that supports the growth of the sports media industry and raises its efficiency; within the framework of justice and transparency.