Discovery seeks to terminate Bundesliga contract, DFL considers legal action

International media group Discovery is seeking to terminate its media-rights contract with the German Football League (DFL), utilising a reported ‘special termination’ clause.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that the clause can be used in the event of an unforeseen circumstance, such as the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic.

It is thought that the DFL is considering legal action against the move by Discovery, which has showcased the Bundesliga matches on Eurosport.

Discovery acquired a package of top-tier Bundesliga rights in a four-season deal, from 2017-18 to 2020-21. Rights included: exclusive live rights to 40 Bundesliga matches per season; non-exclusive rights to the German Super Cup; exclusive live rights to two promotion/relegation matches between Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga; and two non-exclusive live matches to the 2. Bundesliga and 3. Liga promotion/relegation matches.

The media group then sublicensed all its rights on to DAZN, the OTT streaming service, in August last year, in a deal covering the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. The wide-ranging agreement also included DAZN distributing the Eurosport 1 and 2 channels on its platforms in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain.

DAZN is thought to be paying Discovery significantly less than the media group pays the DFL.

Discovery has publicly expressed doubts about its future investment in top-tier football rights for some time.

In May 2018, Discovery president and chief executive David Zaslav said that the Bundesliga rights acquisition had “taught us a lesson in what we do and what we can’t do”, whilst also admitting that it is “unlikely that you’ll see us competing in these three-year cycles of football” in the future.

Discovery is the only domestic media rights-holder to not have agreed a renegotiated deal with the DFL following on from the postponement of Bundesliga matches. Each broadcaster will pay the last instalment of their rights fees this season before it restarts in order to protect clubs cash flow, but will get the money back if the season is cancelled.

There was no contractual obligation for any of the domestic rights-holders to renegotiate or pay this final instalment whilst matches are postponed.

DAZN still has an active contract with Discovery, and has renegotiated its own direct deal for Bundesliga clips highlights with the DFL. It is thought that the streaming service would want to continue broadcasting the league if the season is to resume, and also into next season.

A date of May 9 was initially touted as when the Bundesliga could restart, but this is looking more unlikely, with reports suggesting this will put back by at least a week. A decision on the restart was expected today (April 30) if May 9 was possible.

Yesterday, Jan Lehmann, commercial director at Bundesliga club Mainz, said that pay-television broadcaster Sky Deutschland is set to offer Bundesliga matches at a “reasonable price” if the country’s top football league is to return next month.  Sky broadcasts 266 live Bundesliga matches exclusively each season and all 306 matches from the second-tier 2. Bundesliga.