Al Jazeera to launch sports channel

The Qatar-based broadcaster will launch its new sports channel dubbed 'beIN Sport' in France.

The Qatar-based broadcaster will launch its new sports channel dubbed 'beIN Sport' in France.

LONDON - Al Jazeera, best known for its Middle Eastern news coverage, aims to become a global powerhouse in sports broadcasting over the next five years, its director told Reuters.

The Qatar-based broadcaster will launch its new sports channel dubbed 'beIN Sport' in France next week and plans for two more channels in the United States in August.

It is also currently weighing whether to bid for the UK rights to the English Premier League, said Nasser al-Khelaifi, director of Al Jazeera Sports, in an interview.

"There is a lot of opportunity in the world for sports channels," said al-Khelaifi on Thursday.

"We are going to look at all the opportunities in Europe. We are going to study each market one by one, and if there is room for another channel, then we will go."

The moves are part of a broader effort by the emirate of Qatar to burnish its sports credentials ahead of hosting the football World Cup in 2022.

Flush with oil and gas wealth, the Qatar Sports Investment fund has also bought the Paris St. Germain football team and the Spanish football team in Malaga.

Al Jazeera is no novice at sports coverage. In the past decade, it has built the most popular sports network in the Middle East and Africa, with two free and 15 pay channels, plus an English version with a dozen commentators and producers.

The question now is whether it can replicate that success abroad with local language channels in Europe and the US.

To do so, it will have to take on established pay-TV groups in each market such as News Corp affiliate BSkyB and Vivendi's Canal+, shell out big money for rights, and overcome its lack of a distribution network.

Both Sky and Canal+ have large subscriber bases built on broad offers featuring exclusive movies, TV series, and sports. They control their distribution via satellite, while Al Jazeera will have to pay commissions to distributors to get its channels on the air.

Al Jazeera's push into international sports broadcasting will soon be put to the test in France. The French 'beIN Sport' channels are aimed at the mass market and will cost 11 euros a month, featuring top-flight French and European football, golf, basketball, and some of the London Olympics.