Telecoms duo retain Belgian league rights as Eleven Sports misses out
By Martin Ross
Telenet and Voo, the Belgian telecoms operators, have held on to the prized sports rights in their portfolio, emerging victorious in the invitation to tender conducted by Belgian soccer’s top-tier Jupiler Pro League.
The duo were today both awarded the first package in three-year deals starting next season, giving them the right to show all league games on television.
Telenet also acquired the exclusive internet and mobile rights to show all league matches (in both Dutch and French).
The award of these rights at a league meeting today represents a blow to Eleven Sports Network, the pay-TV broadcaster that bid for exclusive coverage.
Proximus, the telecoms operator that is also an incumbent live rights-holder, has not been awarded any rights packages yet, but the league stipulated that the invitation to tender remains “open and ongoing” and that it is “continuing to evaluate the offers, hoping to be able to announce in the near future the acceptance of additional offers.”
Orange, another telecoms operator, also lodged an offer for rights.
Pierre François, the Pro League’s chief executive, said today that the new contracts represent a 16-per-cent rise in value compared to the current deals, although it remains unclear whether that calculation includes the offer on the table from Proximus.
Pro League and MP & Silva, its appointed agency adviser, sought to drive up competition for the rights, after Proximus (then known as Belgacom), Telenet and Voo teamed up last time around to sign non-exclusive agreements and keep the price down to a total of €60 million (now $65.4 million) per season, with additional revenues brought in from the sale of highlights rights.
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.
|Rights packages awarded in Jupiler Pro League tender 2017-18 to 2019-20|
|Lot 1||Live TV rights to all matches (including 'TV everywhere' services)||Telenet||Non-exclusive||Dutch|
|Lot 2||Live internet and mobile rights only to all matches||Telenet||Exclusive||Dutch and French|
|Lot 3||Live Super Cup rights||Telenet||Exclusive||Dutch|
|Lot 4||Internet and mobile rights to near-live and delayed clips||Telenet||Non-exclusive||Dutch and French|
|Lot 5||Free-to-air highlights rights||Telenet||Exclusive||Dutch|
|Lot 6||Monday evening magazine show||VRT||Exclusive||Dutch|
|Source: Pro League|
Announcing the agreements today, Pro League said that all the rights awarded are subject to the finalisation of contract negotiations.
The league last month expressed its satisfaction with the 10 “financial and qualitative” offers received for the various live, highlights and clips packages.
For Telenet and Voo’s existing television subscribers, the new deals are set to change little as they will continue to be able to watch all Jupiler Pro League games.
However, the award of the live rights to the duo does raise some serious questions in Belgium for Eleven Sports given that its flagship rights deal for Spain's LaLiga expires next year, as do key carriage deals, and the pressure may now be on for the service to add Uefa Champions League rights to boost its offering.
Having launched in Belgium in the summer of 2015, Eleven Sports was vocal about its interest in the rights to Belgium’s top flight ahead of the rights auction, seeking exclusivity in any deal with the league and MP & Silva.
Anouk Mertens, Eleven Sports’ managing director in Belgium, told L’Echo newspaper today: “We will not be investing in a non-exclusive offer.”
She added that the clubs had missed the chance for a long-term partnership (of up to five years) but insisted that the broadcaster will not change its strategy in Belgium as a result of today’s news.
The potential conflict of interest issue – MP & Silva co-founder Andrea Radrizzani’s Aser investment group owns Eleven Sports Network – was set to irk rival bidders if Eleven had emerged victorious.
Last year, the Belgian clubs indicated that they might be willing to set up their own channel with a broadcast partner, and, if it had been successful, Eleven Sports was tipped to set up a dedicated league channel and then look to refinance its investment through carriage deals with the telecoms operators.
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 media rights deals for the next cycle.