Eleven Sports completes Belgian league deal as outlier Antwerp signs up

Subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports has been able to complete its exclusive swoop for broadcast rights to Belgian football’s Pro League after top-tier club Antwerp signed up to the proposed five-year agreement.

Antwerp, one of the leading ‘G5’ clubs, was the only remaining club among the 24 sides from Belgium’s top two divisions yet to commit to the five-year agreement from next season onwards.

The Pro League last month voted in favour of a five-year contract with Eleven Sports, covering domestic and international rights to the top two Belgian divisions and worth €103m ($110.5m) per season between 2020-21 and 2024-25.

Along with rights to the top-tier First Division A and second-tier First Division B, the deal also includes the Belgian Cup, the Belgian Super Cup and the women’s Super League.

Antwerp and Gent initially opposed the deal but the latter came on board within a week. Antwerp had refused to back the agreement in a row over the distribution of revenues between clubs and as it pushed for a greater share.

On the agreement struck with Antwerp, Pro League said this afternoon: “After intensive but constructive negotiations, an agreement was found on March 13 with R. Antwerp FC. The agreement with R. Antwerp FC does not change the definition of the G5. It does include new performance related revenue opportunities. For example, clubs from the K11 that reach Play Off 1 will be financially rewarded.”

The G5 clubs are classed as the five teams that have obtained the best results on the pitch over the last five seasons, while the remaining eleven clubs in the 16-team top flight make up the K11.

The acquisition of rights by Eleven is a major boon to the Aser-owned broadcaster after it lost out on the rights during the last auction. It also represents the most high-profile domestic property secured by Eleven in any of the territories in which it operates.

Marc Watson, executive chairman of Eleven Sports Group, remarked: “In these uncertain times, we are pleased to have some positive news to share with Belgian football fans. This is the first time Eleven has secured the domestic rights to one of European football’s major leagues. It is a milestone moment for the progress of our group and testament to the quality of our team and the fan-centric platform that we have built up in Belgium since 2015.”

Eleven Sports is now profitable in the lowland country. It is distributed by various operators in over 750,000 Belgian homes.

The broadcaster launched two channels in Belgium in August 2015 on Proximus’ platform and introduced its OTT service later that year. A third channel was added in 2017 thanks to the broadcaster’s increasing sports rights portfolio.

Eleven said it will “now focus on creating a network of TV and digital platforms for Belgian football, which offers fans the ultimate matchday experience and unmissable content around the biggest games”.

Incumbent live rights-holders Proximus, Telenet and Voo, a trio of telecoms operators, are thought to have vied for the rights with Eleven.

At present, the league generates upwards of €80m per season from non-exclusive live domestic rights deals with Proximus, Telenet and Voo (from 2017-18 to 2019-20), supplemented by highlights and near-live clip rights deals. Those deals were negotiated by MP & Silva, the league’s erstwhile rights adviser and previously its international rights distributor.

Pierre François, the Pro League chief executive, said today: “Negotiations have been intense, but Belgian professional football as a whole is coming out stronger. The outcome of the discussions does not mean that a tailor-made agreement has been developed for R. Antwerp FC.”

He said that, thanks to the solidarity of the G5 clubs, the collective deal would also reward the K11 sides.

Having launched the invitation to tender on December 2, the Pro League invited bids across 11 packages for four- or five-year contract terms.

Pro League clubs convened on January 24 but did not award any rights. At the time, the league said it was weighing up the possibility of launching a new invitation-to-tender process, seeking talks with the Belgian Competition Authority.

Increased inventory on offer in the tender maximised the league’s opportunity to drive up the value as rights to various competitions were added in to the centralised offering. All rights packages were offered on a platform-neutral basis.

RTBF, the French-language public broadcaster, holds highlights rights until the end of this season. RTBF also shares live rights to the Belgian Super Cup (with Telenet). Vier, the SBS-owned channel, holds the main package of free-to-air Flemish-language highlights rights.

Non-exclusive clip rights deals are in place with the league’s live and highlights broadcasters, along with various publishing companies, including De Persgroep and Mediahuis.