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Al Jazeera, beIN Sport using soccer to win over US audiences


US soccer player Jozy Altidore heads the ball against Canada during their international friendly match on June 3, 2012 at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Tom Szczerbowski

BeIN Sport is the latest player to emerge in the crowded – and always changing – American sports media landscape, and it's backed by an interesting source: Al Jazeera.

BeIN Sport launched Aug. 15 from its Miami, Florida headquarters as “America’s new and exclusive international sports channel.”

“From the best European leagues to the top World Cup Qualifier matches, beIN Sport gives you first-row access to the world’s top soccer,” the network’s website says.

It’s available on DirecTV, Dish Network and COMCAST, although viewers often need to pay extra to receive the channel.

Time Warner access is said to be coming soon, the Washington Post reported.

BeIN is banking heavily on soccer, featuring games from France, Spain, Italy and England as well as South America mixed with highlights and features from all sports, according to its website.

It purchased broadcast rights for Team USA soccer’s away games as it tries to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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What most viewers don’t realize right away, however, is that the money behind beIN Sport comes from Al Jazeera, The New York Times reported.

Al Jazeera is a news network based in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup.

Speculation suggests the network is either trying to cash in on America’s growing appetite for soccer or starting now to promote the World Cup in a decade’s time.

The Times also theorizes that Al Jazeera is hoping to win over American viewers and cable providers with hopes they start watching its news coverage, too.

Likely, it’s a mixture of all three.

“My experience is they are more economically driven than you would think and they have a very westernized philosophy,” sports consultant Rob Tilliss told the Times. “At the end of the day, their objectives are basically the same (as US networks).”

What the network isn’t interested in is indoctrination, The Times said.

Some believe that Al Jazeera carries an anti-American bias because of its Arab backers and the fact it would broadcast Al Qaeda videos, but the network has emerged as a credible, reliable news source regardless of its location.

US military strikes hit Al Jazeera offices during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts a decade ago; however, those were both unintentional, The Times reported.

To help American audiences accept beIN, Al Jazeera enlisted a couple of familiar voices to handle the play-by-play, The Washington Post reported.

Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen jumped from GolTV to beIN as the network’s primary broadcast team, according to the Post. Hudson told The Post that beIN is very serious about its soccer.

“It’s just a hive of activity. What an operation,” Hudson said to the Post. “How the hell they have pulled it off is a minor miracle. Technologically, it’s mind-boggling and eye-popping.”

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