ESPN joins Fox in distancing itself from mysterious Sportflix
By Simon Ward
ESPN is the latest international sports broadcaster to distance itself from a deal with Sportflix to provide content to the nascent over-the-top streaming platform, and to threaten legal action if its rights agreements are violated.
Sportflix, which is being marketed as a ‘Netflix of sports’, has originated from Mexico and is set to launch in that country and beyond on 30 August, with promised coverage of top soccer leagues and other competitions from the Americas and Europe among various sports.
It claims to have been in talks with some of the leading broadcasters operating in Latin America, including ESPN and Fox Sports, to share coverage of these events, but this is denied by many of the networks themselves.
In a statement issued to Sportcal on Wednesday, ESPN said it “has not engaged with Sportflix in any way. ESPN works with the owners and rights sellers of the content we air and we will take all the necessary actions to protect our products from piracy and illegal use.”
ESPN was prompted to go public after the mysterious Sportflix was quoted in various media reports pledging coverage of events to which the broadcaster holds rights.
Fox Sports Latin America said last week that it had “no knowledge” of the company and had “not established any contact with them.”
It added that it "works together with the owners of these contents to take all the necessary actions towards protecting our products from piracy and the illegal use of those rights.”
Fox’s rights portfolio includes the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, South American soccer's top clubs competitions, which Sportflix has said it will show.
The new platform has also indicated that it will stream matches from Argentina’s new top-tier Superliga, domestic rights to which are shared by Fox and Turner, and Brazil’s Campeonato Brasileiro, a staple of Globo, that country’s leading commercial broadcaster.
Fernando Manuel Pinto, the director of sports rights at Globo, said last week: “There has been no contact [with Sportflix]. First, we need to know the proposal, and then we’ll talk, which does not mean we’ll do business. Of course, there are various rights involved.”
Sportflix has been developed by Matías Said, an Argentinian based in Mexico, and other sports it is planning to show include Formula 1, American football, basketball, ice hockey, golf, tennis and UFC.
However, there remains considerable uncertainty over how it will be able to stream such events when exclusive deals are already in place in many territories.
It is understood that prominent rights-holders are set to join their broadcasting partners in denying negotiations with Sportflix.
The company is planning to offer content internationally on platforms including televisions, computers, tablets and phones, with a pricing structure ranging from $19.99 for access via two screens to $24.99 on five screens to $29.99 on eight screens.
Said lifted the lid, to some extent, on its planned offering in an interview with Argentinian newspaper La Nación on Wednesday, claiming it will have “95 per cent of sporting events that interest the audience.”
He added: “Sportflix is the result of three years of research. First I gathered investors for the project and the first stage [after that] was to choose the best people for technological development. That is key because if the transmission is blocked, if people see it badly, it is no use having the best sports.
“Then came the stage of getting the rights. Sportflix will have mostly retransmission rights, which are cheaper than transmission ones. That means that the platform will accommodate the sports channels that have the events.
“For that, it was essential to have the two main television stations in Mexico. Then it was easier to get the other deals. Some joined, others did not. And [for] those that said 'no', we went directly for the streaming rights."
However, Said, who was described as the vice-president of Sportflix, was not forthcoming on which channels had signed up with the platform, citing confidentiality issues.
Asked about restrictions by region, he said: “There will only be restrictions where there are restrictions by the internet, as can happen in the Arab countries. Other than that, there will be no restriction. It is an open platform and with an already registered account it can be accessed from anywhere in the world.”
Said claimed that 600,000 unique users have already visited the Sportflix website, including 6,000 from Argentina, and that it aims to have 1.5 million users by the time of the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
He added that the platform has the capacity for “10 million users without crashing.”
Said insisted there would be coverage of the Superliga and the Copa Libertadores in Argentina, saying: “Yes. There will be no restrictions. It will be the user’s choice whether they see it via Sportflix or via the channel that transmits it.”
Said, a fan of Argentinian soccer giants Boca Juniors, claims to have been motivated to launch the platform after being unable to watch the team's matches in Mexico in 2011.
He said: "Argentinian football had disappeared from Mexican channels. The [only] option was to watch it on the internet in any way: via transmissions full of viruses and invasive advertisements. I was wondering why, if there was already the right technology, it was not possible to see it better. Why could there not be something like Netflix? This is how the idea came about and the first important thing was the name."