COMESA SLAMS BEIN MEDIA GROUP FOR RESTRICITIVE BUSINESS PRACTICES IN THE MARKET
On the 25th of January 2024, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”) issued a press release on restrictive business practices in the field of football matches streaming.
beIN Media Group LLC (“beIN”), a global player in the media and entertainment industry, has come under scrutiny for its business practices within the COMESA jurisdictions. COMESA, a regional economic community with 21 member states, is dedicated to promoting economic integration and development among its members.
With the current streaming of leagues and football matches being held exclusively, the COMESA Competition Commission (the “Commission”) decided to fine the Confederation of African Football (“CAF”) and beIN for breach of the COMESA Competition Regulations (the “Regulations”).
In its press release, COMESA highlighted concerns about beIN’s potential infringement on fair competition within the market. The COMESA allegations include restrictive licensing agreements, monopolistic behaviour, and anti-competitive practices that may be limiting consumer choice and hindering the growth of other market players. The Commission issued a fine equivalent to 300,000 USD on the basis of breaching article 16 (1) of the Regulations.
The restrictive business practices are defined under Article 16 (1) the Regulations’ as “all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which: (a) may affect trade between Member States; and (b) have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market.”
This is not the first instance where the CAF was accused of carrying out restrictive business practices. The market behaviour was initially detected in 2017 when the Commission opened an investigation into third-party agreements concluded for commercialization of media rights of football matches organized by CAF (“beIN Agreements”). The beIN Agreements were concluded with Lagardere Sports and SueprSport respectively.
On 22 December 2023 COMESA concluded its investigation in relation to beIN’s market behaviour, and the Committee for Initial Determinations (“CID”) held that the beIN Agreements are in complete violation of Article 16 of the Regulations for the following reasons:
- Lack of an open tender process for the award of the pay TV-broadcasting rights of the CAF matches;
- The disproportionality of the beIN Agreements’ term and the fact that the CAF matches were held annually or every two years.
- The unreasonableness of the scope of the media rights granted under the beIN Agreements in conjunction with the lack of tender process and the duration of the agreements.
Accordingly, the CID ordered that all agreements related to the operation of the beIN media rights within the COMESA common market shall cease on 31 December 2024.
Further, the CID ordered that all media rights of CAF matches which will be awarded in the future, on an exclusive basis, must be awarded by CAF based on an open, transparent, and non-discriminatory tender process. Further, CID enunciated a set of objective criteria that must be adhered to in order to ensure compliance with the order.
The CID specifically held that such exclusivity agreements are prohibited to be executed for a duration exceeding four (4) years. The CID did provide an exception for conclusion of exclusivity agreements for a period exceeding four years, where CIF must provide a prior notification to the Commission and obtain its consent. The Commission would have 60 calendar days to decide on the relevant exclusive agreement.
In conclusion, COMESA’s decision to take action against beIN Media Group’s restrictive business agreements marks a significant step towards promoting fair competition and protecting consumer interests within the Eastern and Southern Africa region. The investigation into beIN’s alleged anti-competitive practices underscores the importance of upholding market principles that foster innovation, diverse choices, and reasonable pricing for consumers. We would highly advise all companies doing business within the COMESA member states to take notice.