Discovery+ Greenlights Doc on Alleged Qatar World Cup Soccer Corruption

Discovery+ Sept. 20 announced the commission of the two-part documentary The Men Who Sold the World Cup, about the alleged corruption surrounding the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The series premieres exclusively on Discovery+ Oct. 17, and in the United Kingdom Oct. 21.

The oil-rich Middle East country of Qatar secured the surprise World Cup host bid in 2010 despite having scant soccer fans and even fewer air-conditioned stadiums required to host the quadrennial event in triple-digit temperatures.

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While the awarding of the World Cup to countries has been rumored for years to have been infested with bribery, corruption, global politics, backroom deals and greed, documentary directors Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme (Get Me Roger Stone, The Swamp) showcase an unbelievable story of how soccer’s biggest competition was sold to the highest bidders.

With exclusive interviews from those at the heart of the story, the documentary reveals the stranger-than-fiction truth behind how the event was sold by some of international soccer’s most senior officials — notably ex-FIFA boss Sepp Blatter — and how they were eventually evicted from their seats of power and luxury lifestyles.

This was a world where, for some, normal rules didn’t apply and bribery and embezzlement were just part of business. The doc is a Shakespearian narrative of money, power and corruption, featuring a cast of outrageous characters, including U.S. soccer bigwig Chuck Blazer and Qatari deal-maker Mohamed Bin Hammam, among others.

Contributors include a whistle-blower from the Qatari bid team; Blatter’s former press chief; soccer greats Jurgen Klinsmann and Landon Donovan; and Blatter, among others.

The first episode features Sunday Times investigators Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, and follows their investigation that revealed rampant corruption at the heart of FIFA. The second episode features FBI and IRS investigators whose job it was to expose criminal behavior they likened to organized crime.

The Men Who Sold the World Cup is a highly gripping series that provides a yet untold insight into one of the biggest sports scandals in history,” Simon Downing, head of factual and sports U.K. at Discovery, said in a statement. “The series is a great addition to our Discovery+ Original Sports content, including highly titles like Reaching The Sky and What Killed Maradona?”

Cinedigm Adds Four Streaming Platforms to The Roku Channel

Cinedigm Aug. 24 announced that four of its newest channels are now available on ad-supported The Roku Channel. The channels include recent licensees “Real Madrid TV,” showcasing one Spain’s top soccer clubs; reality-based “So … Real” and “The Only Way Is Essex,” as well as Robert Rodriguez’s “El Rey Network.”

Access to The Roku Channel enables Cinedigm to share with Roku in any ad-revenue generated by its licensed channels across a platform Roku said saw more than 55 million monthly active viewers through the second quarter, ended June 30.

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“The Roku Channel continues to grow as a go-to destination for streaming, enabling users to discover and enjoy a wide variety of programming,” Daniel Schneider, SVP of revenue at Cinedigm, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to help make such a variety of new channels that we know will appeal to each enthusiast audience available on The Roku Channel.”

Amazon Prime Video Lands a Soccer ‘GOAT’

NEWS ANALYSIS — Amazon Prime Video, unlike other subscription streaming pioneers Netflix and Hulu, has never shied away from live sports. In addition to a smattering of New York Yankees games and sponsorship of Major Soccer League’s Seattle Sounders, Amazon’s biggest deal in the U.S. involved securing exclusive rights to “NFL Thursday Night Football,” featuring the first-ever female broadcast team.

In Europe, Amazon made headlines securing exclusive broadcast rights to French soccer’s top Ligue 1. The league received a surprise boost Aug. 10 when Argentina’s Lionel Messi, often considered the greatest soccer player ever, left Spain’s FC Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain in a two-year deal.

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“I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career at Paris Saint-Germain,” Messi said in a statement.

Overnight, Amazon’s gamble on French soccer would appear to have struck gold. Messi, a six-time Ballon d’Or winner, could play in PSG’s match against Brest on Aug. 21.

Amazon swooped up Ligue 1 rights at a discount (275 million euros/$321 million) with professional soccer across Europe dealing with the fiscal fallout from the pandemic that has resulted in shuttered stadiums and zero ticket/concessions revenue. Prime Video typically includes live sports at no additional charge to subscribers.

For Ligue 1 access, Prime Video is charging subs an additional 13 euros ($15.18) monthly, on top of the 6 euros ($7) base Prime membership fee.

Observers contend Amazon needs 1.2 million subscribers to break even on Ligue 1. Prime Video currently has about 4.5 million French subs; and 175 million worldwide.

“Amazon proved agile in buying the rights on the cheap, but it still has to demonstrate it can leverage them to significantly increase its e-commerce business footprint,” Francois Godard, analyst at Enders Analysis, wrote in a recent note.

Cinedigm Partners With Spanish Soccer Powerhouse Real Madrid for Streaming Channel

Cinedigm has partnered with Spanish soccer giant Real Madrid to expand distribution of the team’s branded sports streaming channel in North America.

Real Madrid TV will feature thousands of hours of soccer content leading up to the 2021-22 season, and will also feature up to three matches weekly once the season kicks off. The service will be available in the United States and Canada for linear and AVOD platforms on connected TVs, digital set-top boxes and media-streaming devices, as well as the web.

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Real Madrid is the most successful club in Europe winning the coveted Champions League a record 13 times. Founded in 1902, the club would come to dominate the next century, earning the unprecedented honor of FIFA Club of the 20th Century in 2000. Since then, their fortunes have only increased, and the club has been a highly sought out destination for the best football players on the planet.

The streaming channel is the latest addition to Cinedigm’s roster of channels currently live across the broader OTT landscape on distribution partners, including The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Samsung, TCL and Tubi, among others.

The deal was negotiated by Josh Thomashow, executive director of acquisitions at Cinedigm, and SportFive on behalf of Real Madrid.

“Soccer is the most popular sport in the world with an extreme level of fandom,” Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, said in a statement. “Partnering with Real Madrid, and giving this global club an exclusive home to many of the biggest OTT distribution partners in North America, will allow viewers to experience never before released content in the United States.”

The channel will provide viewers access to matches during the season of Real Madrid’s La Liga games, as well as its UEFA Champions League and Cup tournaments. In addition, the channel will air classic programing, exclusive club insight, breaking news and more. More than 8,000 hours of content will be made available annually. At launch, the streaming channel will feature:

  • Live Press Conferences
  • Exclusive Interviews
  • Live Training Sessions
  • Classic Matches
  • Magazine Shows
  • Real Madrid News Programming
  • Special Features

Reed Hastings Takes Self-Deprecating Shot at Soccer’s Super League

Who knew Reed Hastings was such a soccer fan? The Netflix co-founder/co-CEO took to social media to weigh in on the European Super League Company, or Super League, an upstart group of 12 of soccer’s most well-known and wealthiest clubs launching a private annual tournament in which they keep all revenue, including TV rights, ticket sales, concessions, etc., among themselves.

As word of the Super League spread, backlash from fans exploded, with many dubbing the concept “Super Greed,” or the “Americanization” of soccer, among other criticisms. Already several clubs have backtracked their involvement, putting in doubt whether the league will even happen.

That apparently struck close to home for Hastings, who tweeted on April 23: “Should the Super League Have Been Named Qwikster?”

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It was 10 years ago this summer when Hastings, seemingly unilaterally, from his home sent out a message on social media announcing the launch of Qwikster, a standalone separate business handling Netflix’s legacy by-mail disc-rental service. Netflix, going forward, would just focus on streaming video.

“DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible,” Hastings tweeted in the Qwikster blog post, setting off a public relations nightmare in the process.

The pushback from subscribers and investors was immediate. Netflix’s most-popular plan at the time was a hybrid streaming/disc option that resonated with more than 12 million users. More than 800,000 subs dropped the service overnight in protest, sending the company’s stock freefalling. The move, which some suggest should be enshrined into the “Dumb Ideas Hall of Fame” along with New Coke and Prohibition, made global headlines with some calls for Hastings to step down.

To his credit, Hastings took personal responsibility for the decision, apologizing for not respecting subscriber interests and market reality. Disc rental at the time represented Netflix’s most lucrative business, financially supporting the company’s aggressive international forays into subscription streaming video.

A lone silver lining to the mess: Netflix never had to deal with Jason Castillo, the reported former high-schooler who shrewdly already owned the Twitter handle @Qwikster.



Germany’s Bundesliga Soccer to Resume on May 16

Germany’s Bundesliga professional soccer league is set to become one of the first sports organizations in the world to resume play on May 16. All remaining nine weekend games of the season will be played in empty stadiums for televised and streaming video audiences. The league has been suspended since March 13.

The German Football Association says the matches would run under strict health protocols, including requiring players have regular COVID-19 tests.

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Comcast’s Sky Deutschland will broadcast all games live in Germany and Austria. Pay-TV operator BT Sports has Bundesliga rights in the U.K. is reportedly considering broadcasting the games for free (with ads).

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‘Goaaal!’ Amazon Gets Record U.K. Prime Membership Sign-Ups Streaming Premier League Soccer

Amazon says its foray into live-streaming Premier League soccer matches in the United Kingdom has resulted in record sign-ups with the e-commerce behemoth.

Prime Video streamed 10 matches between Dec. 4-6 with an army of cameras, operators, sound engineers and on-screen talent to analyze the action.

Amazon said it set a U.K. record for Prime membership sign-ups on Dec. 4, which was then broken again on Dec. 6. Amazon does not disclose Prime membership numbers. Media reports suggest Amazon has 15 million members in the U.K. since launching in 2007.

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“We’re delighted that millions of football fans enjoyed watching Amazon’s first ever round of Premier League matches on Prime Video,” Alex Green, managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe, said in a statement.

Green said the matches — similar to IMDb TV and Prime Video content — featured in-program special features such as live stats, ‘X-Ray’ highlights, in addition to commentary-free option.

Amazon’s next Premier League action is a nine-game slate on Dec. 26.

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Rakuten TV Launches FC Barcelona Soccer Series

To soccer fans worldwide, Spain’s FC Barcelona (“Barça”) is one of the top professional clubs in the world led by Argentine’s Lionel Messi.

Rakuten TV Nov. 29 launched “Matchday: Inside FC Barcelona,” a free eight-episode reality-based program that follows the club and its players through the 2018-19 season.

Narrated by John Malkovich, the series claims to offer a “no-holds-barred” view of the club and players during a season that saw the club finish atop Spain’s La Liga as well feature prominently in the ongoing UEFA Champions League competition.

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Rakuten is a primary commercial sponsor of FC Barcelona. The series is available for free across the 42 European countries, including Japan.

Rakuten TV is a European-based VOD offering transactional access to new release movies and TV shows. It also includes an AVOD section, Rakuten TV Free, in a blend of thematic channels embracing Hollywood classics, local, exclusive and themed content.

Rakuten, headquartered in Japan, offers ecommerce in the United States. In addition to FC Barcelona, the company has partnerships with the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, Davis Cup and Spartan Race.

Disney’s ESPN+ Streaming Service Soon Home to German Bundesliga Soccer

Disney-owned sports subscription streaming video service, ESPN+, will become in 2020 the U.S. home for the Bundesliga, Germany’s top professional soccer league.

Launched last year, ESPN+ costs $5 monthly, or $50 annually, featuring sports and related content not available on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, ESPN Classic and ESPN News.

“With a strong connection to the American soccer community, a growing audience in the U.S. and some of the most well-known clubs and players in the world, the addition of the Bundesliga further cements ESPN+ as a must-have for any soccer fan,” Russell Wolf, EVP and GM, ESPN+, said in a statement.

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The Bundesliga joins an extensive lineup of soccer on ESPN+ that features over 2,000 top football matches per year from around the world, including exclusive coverage in the US of Italy’s Serie A, the UEFA Nations League, England’s FA Cup and EFL, MLS, the Dutch Eredivisie and more.

Robert Klein, CEO of Bundesliga International, said the deal underscores that Germany continues to be an important source of talent for U.S. national soccer teams.

“With ESPN+, we’re excited to take fans on their journey in the lead up to their home World Cup in 2026,” Klein said.

The service is also streaming 22 matches of the West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup of Nations, which began Sept. 28  from the Stade Lat Dior in Thies, Senegal.


Spain’s Top Soccer League Fined for Spying on Fans via Mobile App

Spain’s top professional soccer league, “La Liga” has been fined €250,000 ($280,000) for using its mobile app to determine whether users were watching pirated games.

The country’s data protection agency said the free Android app, which reportedly has been downloaded nearly 10 million times, enabled fans to keep track of games, scores, player stats and schedules, among other data.

The technology could also track a user’s surroundings – such as a restaurant or sports bar – and determine whether matches were being shown illegally – information, the agency said, La Liga did not disclose to users.

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La Liga, along with English Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1, ranks among the most lucrative in the world. Yet, it contends annual revenue loses upwards of €150 million from pirated games.

“This translates into direct damage for clubs, operators and fans, among others,” La Liga said in a statement denying the allegations. The league  claims the regulatory agency is unfamiliar with the app’s technology.

“All this technology was implemented to achieve a legitimate goal: fight against piracy,” the league said.

La Liga, which said the app followed existing regulations, added it would shutter the alleged spying functions at the season’s end on June 30.