Five-year terms offered as Belgian Pro League issues domestic rights tender

Belgium’s Pro League has initiated the start of its domestic broadcast rights sales process and will invite bids for four- or five-year contract terms.

Announcing the launch of the invitation to tender for rights from 2020-21 onwards, Pro League is offering rights to not only the top-tier ‘1A’ and second-tier ‘1B’ divisions, but also the Supercup, Belgian Cup and the women’s Super League.

Pro League stated: “By including Championship 1B, the Belgian Cup and the Women’s Super in the same tender, Pro League strengthens its goal to further expand these competitions and their identity as an undeniable part of the Belgian football experience.”

A total of 11 different rights packages are on offer for a term or four or five seasons.

Interested parties have been handed a deadline of December 10 to request the tender documents and must lodge their offers by the middle of January.

For the current cycle (from 2017-18 to 2019-20), Pro League and the now collapsed MP & Silva agency brought in upwards of €80m ($88.6m) per season from live domestic rights deals with telecoms operations Proximus, Telenet and Voo, supplemented by highlights and near-live clip rights deals.

RFBF, 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.

The Jupiler Pro League’s top sides, including the likes of Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Standard Liège, had been considering the individual sale of their rights to broadcasters, but the league has pressed ahead with the collective sale of rights.

Pro League chief executive Pierre François said: “Today we present in one tender all the competitions of the Pro League to the candidate rightsholders and the public. The integration of the Championship 1B, the Supercup, the Belgian Cup and the Women’s Super League will allow us to create added value for these competitions. With this additional content, future rightsholders will be able to create a more comprehensive story around the competitions.

“With the integration of the Women’s Super League, we make a clear statement. The Pro League commits to strengthen women’s football. The possibility to follow the Super League live on a weekly basis as of next season, offers huge possibilities for the development of our women’s teams.

All rights packages are being offered on a platform-neutral basis.

Leander Monbaliu, Pro League’s head of legal and media rights, remarked: “Through this, future rights-holders will be able to opt for a traditional tv-offer, but also for a so-called over-the-top subscriptions, similar to Netflix, fans can watch on their smart-tv or app. We are convinced that we will be able to take an important step forward commercially, but even more in terms of fan experience.”

A “minimum overlapping of matches” in the 1A and 1B divisions has also been promised by the league. Companies looking to request the tender documents have been asked to email the league (tender2019@proleague.be).

Ivan De Witte, the AA Gent president and former Pro League president, recently set lofty ambitions for the next domestic rights contracts. Speaking as he gave his thoughts on a the revived idea for a BeNeLiga with the Netherlands, he told commercial network Radio 1: “I did tell the president that we have to propose a minimum of €120 million [per season].”

The Belgian top flight will retain its 16-team format with playoffs after the league and member clubs signed off on the competition format in April.

This came after proposals for either a top tier of 20 teams or a new structure with a 14-team 1A division and 10-team 1B division both failed to gain the necessary approval. The discussions over the format served to push back the invitation to tender process.

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