Eleven Sports closes in on Pro League deal as clubs agree on revenue sharing
By Simon Ward
Eleven Sports, the international subscription broadcaster, looks set to land the premium domestic rights to Belgian soccer’s top-tier Pro League after a breakthrough in negotiations between the clubs on Monday evening.
The teams will meet on Wednesday to confirm a deal with Eleven worth €103 million ($112.5 million) per season over five years, having come to a consensus on the distribution of revenue, according to multiple reports in Belgium.
Eleven was regarded as being in “pole position” to acquire the live rights for the 2020-21 season onwards having outbid the incumbent rights-holders, the telecoms trio of Telenet, Voo and Proximus, which tabled a bid of €102 million per year.
The Pro League general assembly received presentations from the bidders on Friday "in order to be able to assess the qualitative aspects of their proposal,” but there was a dispute between the G5, the big five clubs in Belgium (Anderlecht, Standard Liege, Genk, Club Brugge and Ghent), and the other 11 over how the money should be split.
The general assembly took place after bids did not reach the required amount by the initial 24 January deadline, being in the order of only around €92 million per year, while the league was seeking in excess of €100 million.
However, it is understood that Eleven's latest offer was well received by the clubs in terms of both the financial and coverage plans.
The Pro League rights are currently worth €80.6 million per season, and it was reported that the G5 wanted to share the increase in value of more than €20 million between themselves, and were threatening to break from the collective model and sell their rights individually, using the bargaining tool of the mooted merger of the Belgian league and the Netherlands’ Eredivisie.
In the absence of an agreement on the revenue distribution, a general meeting to allocate the rights was postponed until 21 February.
However, differences appear to have been resolved at a meeting of the Pro League board of directors on Monday where Mehdi Bayat, the president of the Royal Belgian Football Association and managing director of Sporting Charleroi, again acted as mediator.
It is understood that the proposal of the K11, the 11 smaller clubs, has been accepted with the extra sum to be split 80:20 between the G5 and the K11.
A new general assembly for clubs of the first and second division has been called for Wednesday morning, with a two-thirds majority required to approve the rights deal and 100-per-cent support needed for the revenue distribution element.
If a deal with Eleven is confirmed, it is anticipated that Telenet, Voo and Proximus will continue to show top-flight matches once new carriage agreements have been reached with the broadcaster.
Eleven, which launched in Belgium in 2015, missed out in the last sales process, having sought exclusivity in any deal with the league and its then rights advisor MP & Silva.
However, Belgium is one of the network's strongest performing markets, with carriage agreements in place with the likes of Telenet, Voo and Proximus, as well as Orange, SFR and several digital satellite operators.
Rights to the Belgian Cup are expected to be retained by RTL, the French-language commercial broadcaster, with Pro League highlights and the Monday talk show La Tribune remaining with RTBF, the French-language public broadcaster.
It is the first time that rights to the Pro League, second-tier 1B, Belgian Cup, Super Cup and Women’s Super League have been packaged together.
Pro League clubs had been expecting a lucrative bid from Mediapro, but the Spanish media rights and production agency wanted a 10-year contract only.
Mediapro's original offer was rebuffed before the initial deadline by the league on the grounds of its length, with concerns such a long contract would not be accepted by the Belgian Competition Authority.