Bids lodged in Belgian Pro League's TV rights tender
By Martin Ross
Eleven Sports Network, the pay-TV broadcaster, has, as expected, submitted a bid for exclusive rights to Belgian soccer’s top-tier Pro League from 2017-18 onwards, while offers have also been lodged by telecoms firms and by Eurosport, the Discovery-owned sports broadcaster.
Having launched in Belgium in the summer of 2015, Eleven Sports Network has been vocal about its interest in the rights to Belgium’s top flight, and is seeking exclusivity in its agreement with the league and MP & Silva, the agency advising on the invitation to tender.
Along with the offers from Eleven and Eurosport, incumbent non-exclusive rights-holders Proximus, Telenet and Voo, the trio of telecoms operators that offer subscription TV services, are also understood to have lodged bids.
Pro League launched its rights auction last month, offering six packages to the market after receiving the approval of Belgium’s competition authorities, but has left the telecoms operators unhappy after stipulating that broadcasters owned by telecoms firms cannot acquire exclusive rights, while standalone broadcasters can.
Pro League and MP & Silva are looking to drive up competition for the rights, after Proximus, Telenet and Voo teamed up last time around to sign non-exclusive agreements and keep the price down to a total of €60 million ($64.4 million) per season.
The league appointed MP & Silva in 2014 in a six-year deal covering domestic and international rights to all matches. The contract with the agency is worth a guaranteed sum of €70 million per season from 2014-15 to 2016-17, and then €80 million per season for the following three years.
MP & Silva went on to sell non-exclusive live rights to the telecoms trio (plus highlights rights to free-to-air broadcasters RTBF and VTM) during the current cycle, agreements that caused MP & Silva to lose money on its rights investment.
Eleven and the telecoms companies were expected to bid, while Eurosport is increasingly targeting premium local content under the ownership of Discovery, and landed rights in Belgium to tennis’ Wimbledon in 2015 (the first country in which the broadcaster had shown the UK’s grand slam event).
Pro League today declined to comment on the rights sales process, telling Sportcal that it “will not make any statement until the general assembly has gathered on Monday, March 20th.”
Andrea Radrizzani, one of MP & Silva’s co-founders and whose Aser investment group owns Eleven Sports Network, expressed doubts ahead of the sales process about deriving more money from Belgian broadcasters if the current structure was maintained.
The controversial structure of the invitation to tender has, therefore, clearly been designed to generate a sizeable jump on the rights fees currently garnered and prevent the incumbent rights-holders from “cosying up.”
The potential conflict of interest issue – Radrizzani retains a minority stake in MP & Silva – is also sure to irk some bidders in the tender should Eleven emerge victorious.
The invitation to tender does state, however, that a broadcaster acquiring the rights exclusively must offer its channel to telecoms platforms on a non-exclusive basis.
Last year, the Belgian clubs indicated that they might be willing to set up their own channel with a broadcast partner, and, if its bid is successful, it has been predicted that Eleven could set up dedicated league channels and then look to refinance its investment through carriage deals with the telecoms operators.
|Rights packages on offer in Jupiler Pro League invitation to tender|
|Package 1||Live rights to all Jupiler Pro League matches to be broadcast on a platform neutral basis (including TV)|
|Package 2||Live rights to all Jupiler Pro League matches to be broadcast solely via internet and mobile|
|Package 3||Exclusive live rights to the Super Cup|
|Package 4||Internet and mobile rights to near-live clips (in-game clips of no more than 20 seconds) and delayed clips (up to 3 minutes) of all matches|
|Package 5||Exclusive rights to weekend highlights shown on free-to-air TV|
|Package 6||Exclusive rights to Monday evening magazine show|
|Source: Pro League|
A total of six packages, including two comprising live rights to all matches, were made available in the invitation to tender issued by Pro League and MP & Silva.
The packages for the Jupiler Pro League and Super Cup (as detailed above) were available separately on a per-language basis, as well as in both French and Dutch.
Packages 1 and 2 both offered live rights to all league matches, albeit across different technologies, with the first package comprising platform neutral rights (including television) and the second restricted to internet and mobile technologies.
There were no changes to the kick-off times in the next rights cycle, with the schedule remaining as follows: Fridays at 8.30pm (CET); Saturdays at 6pm, 8pm and 8.30pm; and Sundays at 2.30pm, 6pm and 8pm.
Ivan De Witte, the former president of Pro League, made the ambitious claim last year that the league should net €100 million per season from its next media rights deals.