Evening Standard

Aiming high: Al Jazeera are ready to bid for Premier League games. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Al Jazeera could be a sensational new bidder to show Premier League football, according to ESPN boss Ross Hair.

The current three-season TV deal which saw Sky and ESPN pay a total of £1.78billion to screen 138 top-flight live games per year ends in May 2013.

The fight for the next three-year ­contract is due to start in the spring and will be tougher than ever with the Qatar-owned TV channel said to be ­weighing up a move. Al Jazeera has already entered the French market. It screens Ligue 1 games and from next season it will also show the majority of Champions League matches on TV in France.

Hair now believes Al Jazeera has its sights set on

the Premier League – a move which could threaten Sky’s dominance of the TV rights.

In his first interview since taking over as head of ESPN for Europe, Middle East and Africa last November, Hair told Standard Sport: “We’re expecting another Premier League auction in April or May. An Al Jazeera bid is a realistic prospect.

They have done something very interesting in France in buying first division football against the incumbent satellite broadcaster Canal Plus and we’ve also looked at what they’ve done in other markets.

“You can draw parallels with the upcoming auction in the UK. Al Jazeera have the ambition to grow further in sport and into other markets.”

Last year Qatar shocked football by winning the right to stage the 2022 World Cup. A bid for the sport’s most popular league would further demonstrate the Middle Eastern kingdom’s desire to set its mark on the world game.

At present ESPN is a junior partner to Sky showing 23 matches, for which it is believed to have paid in the region of £160million.

The Disney-owned channel got this toehold in the Premier League when the Irish channel Setanta collapsed in June 2009. It has since added the FA Cup and would like to expand into other sports.

However, maintaining its foothold in the Premier League is so crucial that ESPN rejected a chance last month to bid for the rights to show international and domestic cricket in England.

“We talked to the England and Wales Cricket Board but timing-wise it was difficult for us because of the Premier League auction coming up,” said Hair.

When contacted by Standard Sport, Al Jazeera refused to comment.


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