The African Cup of Nations kicked off from Cameroon on Sunday, with the hosts taking on Burkina Faso in the opening match. The game was notable for its violence. Of the on-field variety, an overly aggressive Burkina Faso gifted Cameroon two penalties, which powered the host nation’s 2–1 victory. Off the pitch, BeIn Sports, the network with AFCON’s American broadcasting rights, committed a far more egregious sort of violence against the sport itself by repeatedly interrupting the match with commercial breaks.
The network cut to commercials during play multiple times, violating one of the key principles that makes soccer the best sport to watch on television: the game’s lack of interruptions. A crucial part of the sport’s appeal is that the action is never halted with commercials, and that games start on time, run for 45-ish minutes at a time before taking exactly 15 minutes for halftime. Soccer’s fluidity and temporal reliability makes for an exquisite viewing experience, one that stands athwart the broader trends in the interminably long, advertising-laden world of modern sports broadcasting. BeIn interrupting the flow of the opening match of a major international competition with “Water Break” title cards and advertisements is an abomination.
The above video came from Defector’s Dan McQuade, whose Youtube TV feed of the match cut to a black screen while my Fubo one ran ads during the “water break” the network took during a VAR review. The network did come back from commercial before the referees came to a decision on the play, but that was probably because the decision took a solid two minutes of review. Other commercial breaks during the Cameroon-Burkina Faso match were less coherent. The network randomly cut to a break in the middle of attacks, as players set up free kicks, and generally whenever the broadcaster felt like it. Again, an abomination.
And the ad breaks weren’t relegated to the tournament opener. Just in today’s Morocco vs. Ghana match, BeIn went to two commercial breaks in the second half, so instead of watching a tense 0-0 match, I got to see the same ad for a bank twice in a row in the 63rd minute, and another break just 10 minutes later. At least there were only two breaks during this match, but that just makes the decision to run what felt like ten breaks during the opening match all the more egregious. And it appears like it will be a problem all tournament long.
The one silver lining on Sunday was that the official Confederation of African Football is streaming every group stage match on YouTube, without commercial breaks. Fans who were fed up with BeIn bullshit could simply scroll over there to watch the match, at least until …