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Eleven Sports offers free Dutch-language highlights in absence of sublicensing deal

Dutch-language highlights of the first weekend of action from the new Belgian Pro League season were shown free of charge on the league website and by rights-holding broadcaster Eleven Sports after a sublicensing deal could not be struck in time.

The subscription broadcaster, which has been in negotiations in recent weeks to sell on the free-to-air highlights rights in the Flanders region, did, however, sign a channels distribution agreement with telecoms operator Voo ahead of the league’s kick-off on Saturday.

Talks with commercial broadcasters, including the SBS-owned Vier, which held the Dutch-language highlights rights in the 2017-20 cycle, have not yet led to an agreement so the league and Eleven Sports opted to showcase the highlights on their platforms.

Along with being freely available on the www.proleague.be/nl/jpl website, the highlights were also streamed free of charge on Eleven’s OTT platform, its linear channel Eleven Pro League 1 and by its YouTube channel.

The highlights were made available an hour after the end of the matches.

A statement from the Pro League on Saturday said: “Until agreement is reached to ensure the broadcast of the summaries on public-service television, the Pro League and Eleven Sports will continue to offer the summaries via their platforms.”

Eleven, which is paying €103m ($121.1m) per season during the 2020-25 cycle for its exclusive global rights to Belgian football, has already agreed a five-season free-to-air highlights deal with Belgian French-language public-service broadcaster RTBF.

Flemish public-service broadcaster VRT last week finalised a five-year highlights content deal with Eleven Sports, affording the broadcaster content rights to continue airing its long-running Monday-evening Pro League magazine programme.

However, the main Dutch-language highlights rights remained unsold.

VRT has also acquired live radio rights and highlights rights that it can show from Sunday evening on its Sporza website and app. Highlights rights from the women’s Super League were also secured by VRT for the first time.

Eleven Sports channel distribution

A deal with Voo was announced on Friday evening and allows the telecoms operator to include Eleven Sports’ Belgian football channels in its pay-television offering.

Customers who already receive the Voo Sport package will automatically receive Eleven’s Pro League channels, while Voo’s triple-play and quad-play customers will receive the channels free for 12 months. Voo’s other customers are required to pay €4.99 per month for a subscription to the channels.

Meanwhile, the Eleven Sports channels that offer international content, including Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A, remain part of the Voo Sports World package priced at €16.99 per month.

A five-year distribution deal was also announced on Friday evening with Télésat/TV Vlaanderen, but an agreement with Telenet, Belgium’s largest telecoms operator, has still not been agreed.

As a result, Telenet offered customers a discount of €10 per month on their Play Sports subscriptions until an agreement can be reached with Eleven. Telenet customers who were set to miss out on the opening weekend of coverage were able to subscribe directly to Eleven Sports’ app.

Jeroen Bronselaer, head of residential marketing at Telenet, said: “We realise how important football and their favourite club are for many of our subscribers, especially in times when we can’t go to the stadium. We want to go far to offer the supporters Belgian football, but we must not lose sight of a market price for the broadcasting rights.”

Eleven previously agreed distribution deals for the channels with fellow telcos Proximus and Orange.

In June, it was reported that Telenet and Proximus were considering the initiation of arbitration proceedings against the Pro League over the repayment of a slice of their final broadcast rights fee for the uncompleted 2019-20 season. The duo has been looking for compensation to be paid after the league moved on April 2 to recommend the termination of the rest of the current campaign in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The two telecoms operators, along with Voo, shared non-exclusive live rights to the Belgian top flight from 2017-18 to 2019-20 in deals worth around €80m per season.