DUBAI, Feb 6 (Reuters) - State-run Saudi Telecom has signed a tentative deal with the government’s General Sports Authority to broadcast Saudi professional soccer matches over 10 years for 6.6 billion riyals ($1.8 billion), the authority said on Tuesday.
The deal appears to take rights to broadcast Saudi soccer away from regional broadcaster MBC group, which in July 2014 signed a 4.1 billion riyal, 10-year deal to obtain them.
Saudi Arabian businessman Waleed al-Ibrahim, who has management control of MBC, was detained for nearly three months in a sweeping crackdown on corruption and released late last month. Dozens of suspects in the crackdown agreed to hand over more than $100 billion of assets to the state in financial settlements of allegations against them, officials said.
Ibrahim, who could not be reached for comment, agreed to an undisclosed settlement after admitting to unspecified violations, according to senior Saudi officials. MBC said he had been found innocent of any wrongdoing in the probe and would keep control of MBC.
In its statement on Tuesday, the sports authority did not mention MBC, and MBC could not immediately be reached for comment.
Saudi Telecom’s memorandum of understanding covers exclusive rights to broadcast matches of Saudi Arabia’s Professional Football League and the national team, as well as sponsorship rights, the authority said.
During the two-month period of the memorandum, a detailed agreement will be negotiated, it added. Saudi Telecom currently offers access to television channels and movies over its broadband network.
The government is keen to develop the sports industry as part of reforms to diversify the economy beyond oil exports, and the authority said its deal was in line with that drive.
Last year Jadwa Investment, a top local investment bank, was appointed to advise on the planned privatisation of as many as five soccer clubs in the Saudi Professional League. The Saudi Telecom deal may be a step towards privatisation deals, but the authority did not mention the issue. (Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Noah Browning)