Comcast is one of the biggest corporations in the United States and are trying to get even bigger with an attempt to buy 21st Century Fox and Sky in the UK. At the same time, Comcast owns NBC and thus have the TV rights to the Premier League in the U.S., which has caused beIN Sports to allege that Comcast is trying to make things difficult for Comcast subscribers and bar owners to watch European soccer that isn’t based out of England.
Bob Fernandez from Philly.com talked to multiple people from customers to bar owners and even a rep from beIN Sports who shared difficulties in getting European soccer to those who have Xfinity, Comcast’s cable service. Fado’s Irish Pub, a popular soccer bar in Philadelphia, noted that they can only show what’s airing on beIN’s TV feed (so one game at a time) and cannot show games from the beIN app. And since beIN shows La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1, often at the same time, someone may be getting left out in the cold each weekend.
In the case of beIN, they allege that this is due to Comcast wanting to maximize viewership for NBC’s Premier League coverage, which Comcast operates and typically airs at the same time as other European leagues. Because of that, they recently filed a complaint to the FCC against Comcast alleging that Comcast is violating the law by prioritizing their network over another.
“We have so much content that happens at the same time, this is the only way to offer it live,” said Antonio Briceno, deputy managing director for beIN Sports in the U.S. and Canada. “You are depriving your fans of 70 percent of the content you are paying for.
“It’s hard to understand. I don’t know if they have an agenda of their rights versus our rights but at the end of the day, we are not serving our customers.”
In addition, Comcast doesn’t offer beIN or FS2 in HD. While Fox Sports has no part of this complaint, it has become a point of contention among subscribers that FS2 is only available in SD and could potentially play into this soccer dilemma since they show Bundesliga games on the channel.
Comcast fired back at the allegations saying that the demand isn’t there to carry beIN on better packages or to carry it in HD. They view beIN as a “niche network” that is just issuing this complaint to the FCC as a negotiating tactic to get those things and notes that Comcast is likely losing money as a result of carrying beIN.
Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement that its treatment of beIN “is consistent with how it is carried by most other cable and satellite providers. Unfortunately, beIN Sports has demanded substantial increases in fees and carriage that make no business sense for our company and our customers. Rather than continue to engage in reasonable commercial negotiations for a renewal of its current agreement, beIN Sports chose to file this complaint, which is completely without merit.”
“Comcast offers beIN in high-definition in some cable markets and the app itself was not part of the carriage agreement,” Fitzmaurice said. She also said that beIN has made its games available on other platforms so that fans can find the games there.
There may be some truth that this is a negotiating tactic. It’s going to be tough for beIN to prove to the FCC they are right and Comcast is making an effort to prioritize their Premier League coverage over beIN’s La Liga coverage. But at the same time, beIN may still have a point in how Comcast operates their sports networks, considering NFL Network and Tennis Channel have posed similar complaints against Comcast in past years. In an effort to make themselves more than a just soccer network and become a more attractive option for sports fans, the network also simulcasts Sean Salisbury’s radio show on weekday afternoons and shows Conference USA college games, international track and field competitions, MotoGP, ATP and WTA tennis and MLW pro wrestling. That sports diversity could increase demand and make beIN less reliant on their soccer coverage.