Fenerbahce vs. beIN Is Turkeys High-Stakes Rivalry

Sarigul described machinations in the top division as more akin to W.W.E., the popular American wrestling franchise, where actions are frequently choreographed to elicit maximum reaction. “It’s entertainment,” Sarigul said. “You’re often going there for the drama and not for the football on show.”

“When something goes wrong,” he added, “you blame ‘them.’ But no one knows who ‘them’ are.”

For beIN, a network that has faced challenging situations in its other markets, the experience in Turkey has been bewildering. It conducted an investigation into how the anti-Fenerbache chants had made it onto broadcasts and concluded that human error was to blame.

In what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture toward Fenerbahce, it then fired the two staff members directly responsible. But the two employees turned out to be Fenerbahce fans, prompting the club to revive its claims of mistreatment.

As a result, beIN is considering walking away from the fight, and the league. The network, bankrolled by the Qatari state, has always absorbed losses from its right deals, but in recent years it has withdrawn from several of them and cut its staff amid a long-running, and costly, piracy dispute. It has allowed deals with the top leagues in Germany and Italy to lapse, and recently withdrew from one with Formula 1.

The Turkish dispute has taken a toll on beIN executives. Some of the network’s non-Turkish staff members have been rotated out of the country, and at least one new one, Rashed al-Marri, was brought in from Doha to take charge of operations in Turkey and in particular to handle the relationship with Fenerbahce. But nothing seems to be bringing down the temperature.

In late February, the company went to court to prevent Fenerbahce from continuing a weekslong campaign that had targeted the broadcaster at its stadium and on its social media channels by using the colors of the beIN logo but replacing the words with the slogan “beFAIR.”

A result was that Turkish subscribers to beIN’s matches were presented with a panoply of protest banners, sideline electronic advertising boards and even the Fenerbahce players themselves covered in beFAIR-branded slogans.