French court censures ASO over beIN rights dispute
October 22, 2019
By Colin Mann
In a legal ruling likely to be be noted across the sports industry, the President of the Nanterre Commercial Court in France has ordered Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) – organiser of the Dakar Rally, Tour de France, the Paris Marathon amongst other events – specifically to perform its five year media rights exclusive agreement with beIN MENA LLC (beIN Media Group’s MENA operation). This followed what beIN describes as ASO’s “remarkable, unlawful attempt” to break beIN’s exclusive contract unilaterally and give the media rights to Saudi Arabia.
In 2018, beIN and ASO entered into a multi-million euro five year deal granting beIN exclusive media rights in the Middle East & North Africa to all ASO’s major events, including the Dakar Rally, the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Le Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Tours and the Paris Marathon from 2018 to 2023.
Earlier in 20199, ASO suddenly moved the venue of the Dakar Rally from South America to Saudi Arabia from 2020 onwards. ASO then attempted to exit beIN’s agreement to license the media rights to a Saudi broadcaster and, to that end, unilaterally terminated beIN’s five year exclusive agreement. ASO also refused to provide beIN with the satellite feeds to its events, for which beIN was the official and exclusive broadcast partner.
beIN immediately took ASO to court. The President of the Nanterre Commercial Court, after ruling that ASO’s termination was seriously questionable, issued an interim order in favour of beIN ordering ASO to “continue the performance of the contract in all its stipulations”. Underlining the importance of the economic stakes of the unlawful termination of the contract, the President of the court also ordered a penalty of €10,000 for every day that ASO refused to give beIN the necessary satellite feeds, technical and operational information to ensure the legitimate broadcaster can transmit all the events.
Perhaps not uncoincidentally, suggests beIN, ASO was represented by De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés, the law firm that represented Arabsat in the high profile French court case in June 2019, where the President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris held that Arabsat – the Saudi-headquartered satellite provider – distributes beoutQ on its satellites.
Despite this ruling, and notwithstanding a 158-page technical report commissioned by FIFA and all the major bodies in world football establishing Arabsat’s complicity in beoutQ, De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés said: “This is a great victory for Arabsat who was wrongly accused. The President of the Paris civil court has clearly ruled that Arabsat is not involved in the beoutQ pirate TV channels.” A subsequent report by Cartesian even showed that Arabsat had gone as far as distorting its technical evidence in that French case.
“We are pleased that the rule of law has prevailed and that commercial contracts cannot be torn up by undue interference,” stated Caroline Guenneteau, Head of Legal of beIN SPORTS France. “This series of events gives an indication of the Saudi’s new strategy while its beoutQ transmissions remain down over satellite; namely, to illegally force its way into sports broadcasting through undue political and commercial influence. However, this French ruling sends a clear message that the pressuring of commercial partners to illegally break contracts will not be tolerated. beIN will relentlessly defend its commercial interests using the full force of the law,” she asserted.