* Media agency wins Premier League rights in Middle East
* Canal+ retains French rights
* Overseas deals prove valuable for top English teams
By Keith Weir
LONDON, Jan 31 TV sports rights firm MP & Silva has trumped larger rivals Abu Dhabi Media (ADM) and Al Jazeera to win a three-year contract to distribute English Premier League soccer in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Premier League announced the agreement with the international media agency on Thursday, the latest in a series of rights deals expected to bring the League a total windfall of more than 5 billion pounds ($7.9 billion) in 2013 though 2016.
ADM had paid $300 million for the current three-year deal and MP & Silva said the cost of the new agreement was close to that figure.
In a separate statement, the Premier League said Vivendi's Canal+ had retained the live rights in France, another of the larger overseas markets.
ADM had been expected to fight hard to retain the rights, since Premier League Champions Manchester City are owned by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera has also been building up its sports broadcasting business, launching channels in France and the United States, and had been expected to bid strongly for the Premier League rights in its home region.
MP & Silva CEO Andrea Radrizzani said the big two broadcasters did not bid as aggressively as he had feared.
"Our price was quite near what ADM paid in the past," Radrizzani told Reuters. "Even though the price was quite high, we thought it was killer content for the region."
The rights cover all 380 Premier League matches per season and extend across 23 countries from Iran to Morocco, taking in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Having bought the rights, MP & Silva will seek to do its own deals with broadcasters in the region to show live action.
Viewers in some countries may not need to adjust their television sets to receive new channels because MP & Silva plans to negotiate with ADM and Al Jazeera.
Any agreement to sub-license the rights has to be approved by the Premier League. Despite its growing sports portfolio, Al Jazeera currently has no Premier League rights.
"We'll have to see whether MP & Silva sell the rights on a exclusive regional basis or try to extract some additional value from smaller local players," said Michael Dean, an analyst at Informa in London.
"I think it will be a tussle between Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi - the latter had it before and will want to have them again, while Al Jazeera wants to be seen as the unparalleled provider of sports coverage in the region," " Dean added.
The Premier League is the richest in the world in terms of TV revenue and outperforms Spanish and German rivals when it comes to selling overseas.
"There is a lot of appetite for football and the Premier League is the best league in the world," Radrizzani said.
"The format is very good for the region in terms of time slots at the weekend," he added.