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ESPN+ close to landing SPFL rights in five-year deal with Infront

ESPN’s direct-to-consumer streaming platform ESPN+ is close to signing off on an agreement to show Scottish Premiership matches after Europe’s international break in a proposed long-term US rights deal with the Infront agency.

SportBusiness understands that the Disney-owned broadcaster is starting to put in place plans for coverage of the Scottish top flight when it resumes on September 12 following negotiations with Infront in recent weeks.

However, the deal has not been fully signed off and certain aspects must still be finalised. A five-year agreement has been under discussion.

The 2020-21 Scottish Premiership season kicked off a month ago without a US rights deal in place. There was not a blackout of coverage, however, given displaced fans could still watch live coverage of their clubs’ matches through the international subscription and pay-per-view offerings of different clubs.

B/R Live, Turner Sports’ live streaming platform, acquired the Scottish Premiership rights in 2018 but did not extend its agreement beyond the end of last season.

Before B/R Live came on board, the Scottish Premiership rights were held stateside by Fox Sports, with coverage switching over the years between the Fox Soccer Plus channel, the Fox Sports channels and the Fox Soccer 2Go streaming platform.

However, pending ratification of the deal, the league will enjoy a permanent home with ESPN+, which picked up Scottish Cup rights at the start of 2019.

The Scottish Premiership features a former Major League Soccer player in the shape of Dundee United’s Ian Harkes, the former DC United midfielder and son of former US national team captain John Harkes.

Infront is in the process of signing off more rights deals in some key markets after the sales process for its new five-year rights agreement with the Scottish Professional Football League was hampered by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international broadcasters’ budgets and logistical delays.

Wanda Sports, Infront’s owner, today (Tuesday) cited SPFL rights agreements that have been completed by Infront in over 30 countries, all of which run until at least the end of the 2022-23 season.

A five-year contract with the Nordic Entertainment (Nent) Group was announced on August 21. Elsewhere in Europe, new deals in France (where pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus held the rights) and Germany (where OTT broadcaster DAZN held the rights) are still to be announced.

Infront holds the SPFL international distribution rights in a five-season deal from 2020-21 to 2024-25. That agreement includes a minimum guarantee, plus revenue share over and above that. Betting streaming rights are not included in the deal and were acquired separately by the rival IMG agency.

ESPN recently introduced a $1 (€0.84) increase in the monthly subscription to its live streaming platform, rising to $5.99 for new customers. ESPN+ recently hit 8.5 million subscribers, up from 7.9 million at the end of the prior quarter, representing a slightly improved growth rate as many American sports properties restarted competition after the Covid-19 shutdown.