Ukrainian Premier League's plan for centralised international rights backed by clear majority of clubs
By Martin Ross
The Ukrainian Premier League, the top-tier soccer in the country, looks set to go to market with its international broadcast rights shortly after 10 of the 12 clubs in the competition voted on Tuesday in favour of a centralised rights model.
The UPL told Sportcal at the end of its meeting with clubs that it will now look to engage in talks with the two "big” sides who voted against the proposal in order to be able to sell the international rights to all league matches from next season onwards.
International rights to the league have been sold on a club by club basis, with Media Group Ukraine, which operates the pay-TV Football 1 and Football 2 channels that have shown the Ukrainian Premier League domestically, selling on the rights outside Ukraine for its games to the IMG agency.
Rival 1+1 Media Group also held broadcast rights until the end of last season, but has not sold on the international rights to its games or distributed them.
Backing by the clubs on Tuesday was described as “great news and a big achievement” by the league, which launched in 2008 and is leading a commercialisation and marketing push as it bids to appeal to sports marketing agencies and international broadcasters alike.
Negotiations over domestic and international broadcast rights are the league’s main priority, after the collapse of a joint offer of UAH102 million ($4.09 million) lodged earlier this year by Media Group Ukraine and 1+1 Media Group for the rights for next season.
The UPL is to be reduced in size from 14 to 12 clubs next season - albeit the number of matches will increase to 192 because of a change in format - and seven of those clubs today voted in favour of centralising their domestic broadcast rights, leaving the league to look to convince the remaining five to do so before launching an invitation to tender process.
Speaking to Sportcal last month, the UPL said that it was looking to issue a broadcast rights invitation to tender for a three-year period from 2016-17 onwards.
Volodymyr Geninson, who became the UPL president earlier this year, said at the time: “We are presenting the clubs all the pluses that we can show them [about centralised marketing]. It will give us a big opportunity to go to the international market.”
“This championship has to change fans’ and sponsor understanding of domestic football. Our task is to offer a new attractive product that will be popular among Ukrainian fans and will be able to compete abroad.”
Asked if there is time for centralised marketing to be introduced ahead of the new season in the second half of July, he replied: “Sure. We are already in negotiations with a couple of big [international] agencies in the market, who really want to buy our rights, but they are only ready to buy them if they are centralised.”
Lagardère Sports is understood to be one of the agencies interested in the rights, and one of its representatives is thought to have visited the UPL last month.
The league’s domestic rights income of only only UAH100 million per season has put it well behind the likes of other European leagues in smaller countries, including Romania, Poland, Greece and Scotland.
The bankruptcy of Metalurh Zaporizhya in October reduced the UPL to 13 clubs, and the league bosses want to restructure the system but give some clubs the time to put their finances in order before a return to 16 teams.
Clubs signed up by Media Group Ukraine last season included Shakhtar Donetsk, Metalist Kharkiv, Olympik Donetsk and Zorya Luhansk, while Media Group 1+1 has held the rights to the matches of teams including Dinamo Kiev, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Chornomorets Odesa and Karpaty Lviv.
Domestically, around 60 per cent of the UPL coverage has been shown on Football 1 and Football 2, while the remainder has aired on the free-to-air 1+1 Media Group’s 1+1 and 2+2 channels, and the league is now looking to introduce uniform production for games with the same signal and graphics produced.
Betting, data and digital rights also look set to be packaged with the UPL’s television rights following feedback from agencies that they “don’t just want half of the product.”
Super Cup sponsor It also emerged on Tuesday that a first-ever title sponsor has been found for the Ukrainian Super Cup, the annual curtain-raising match between the reigning league and cup champions.
UDP, the Ukrainian property development company, has become the title sponsor of the competition in an initial one-year agreement.
The 2016 Super Cup will take place next month and involved heavyweight clubs Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk.
The UPL has been looking to centralise clubs’ sponsorship rights amid efforts at modernisation and internationalisation.
A league title sponsorship agreement with Pari-Match, the betting operator, has only onw more season left to run, while the league is targeting sponsors for the U-21 and U-19 Championships, and can also sell rights to certain matches from the Cup of Ukraine under a mixed model that allows the FFU, the national federation, to sell rights to other games.
The league said last month that it is “actively working on raising funds not only on domestic business but is seeking partners abroad.”
Meanwhile, the UPL, which launched eight years ago after a restructuring as it split with the Professional Football League of Ukraine, has backed the introduction of an official league anthem to be played before matches.