Telenet threatens legal action if Pro League rights fee not refunded
Telenet, the Belgian telecoms and pay-TV broadcaster, has threatened to sue domestic soccer's Pro League if it does not receive a refund on its advanced payment for rights after the 2019-20 season was officially cancelled last week.
After the league’s board of directors last month made a recommendation to its 16 clubs to terminate the remainder of the campaign because of the continued uncertainty regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Telenet immediately made its position clear and requested a reimbursement if the games were not completed.
In a letter sent to the Pro League in April, Telenet delivered an ultimatum: to spread the refund over a period; or to provide broadcasting rights to the value of this amount to the three operators [Telenet, Proximus and Voo] for an equal number of matches for the 2020-21 season.
The latter was complicated by the fact a new domestic rights deal kicks-in next season with Eleven Sports, the international subscription broadcaster, and Telenet is now focusing on receiving repayment for its rights fee and is willing to take legal action if the league is unwilling to comply.
The company told Belgian news agency Belga: “Telenet is making a final call to the Pro League to sit around the table and find a solution. If it does not act on this call, Telenet plans to take legal action.”
Telenet holds non-exclusive domestic broadcast rights along with Proximus and Voo.
The trio paid a combined €80 million ($87.5 million) per year for the rights and already paid up for this season, their last as Pro League rights-holders.
A cancellation of the season was officially ratified by the Pro League clubs last Friday, which means the league’s rights-holders will not broadcast the remaining games, which included the season-ending championship play-offs featuring the top six teams and determines the league winners.
There was also one round of games in the regular season outstanding.
Telenet said it "calls again for a constructive discussion with all rights holders regarding the repayment of the advance already paid, as it is now clear that a third of the matches in the current football season, including the very attractive playoffs, will not be played."
The firm added: “It is indeed fair that an advance be reimbursed when services are not provided. According to the company, the form that this reimbursement can take can be examined in a concerted manner.”
Proximus and Voo are also understood to have contacted the Pro League to seek reimbursement.
The telecoms trio’s existing four-year deal with the league was due to expire at the end of this season after which Eleven will hold the rights in an agreement worth €103 million per year which runs until the end of the 2024-25 campaign.
The incumbents had tabled an offer of their own worth €102 million annually in an effort to retain the rights.
The Pro League is the fourth league in Europe to officially cancel its season, along with France’s Ligue 1, the Dutch Eredivisie and Scotland’s SPFL.