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Gent aligns with Eleven Sports’ collective Pro League deal

Top-tier Belgian football club KAA Gent has signed up to the collective broadcast rights agreement with subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports from 2020-21 onwards after talks with the country’s Pro League.

Gent had last week refused to back a collective five-year agreement with Eleven Sports, pointing to exclusivity being “underestimated” in Eleven’s proposal. Following discussions with the Pro League, the club has now said that it supports the agreement as it “is convinced that solidarity is necessary and indispensable”.

Gent’s alignment behind the Eleven Sports agreement, which covers domestic and international rights and is worth €103m ($111.6m) between 2020-21 and 2024-25, means that 23 of 24 sides from the top two Belgian divisions have now signed up to the collective contract.

Negotiations remain ongoing with Antwerp, one of the leading ‘G5’ clubs, over the distribution of revenues between clubs.

The agreement with Gent removes the threat of the club looking to sell the rights to its own home matches.

Pro League president Peter Croonen said: “We welcome the accord of KAA Gent. This is entirely in line with the DNA of this club which has always been an enthusiastic supporter of solidarity.”

In a bid to resolve the standoff, Croonen met with Ivan De Witte, the Gent president (and himself a former Pro League president), and Michel Louwagie, the club’s general manager.

Pierre François, the Pro League chief executive, is to meet with representatives of Eleven Sports today (Tuesday) as preparation plans start to be put in place for next season. The proposal made by Eleven Sports was for rights to all member clubs’ matches.

Incumbent live rights-holders Proximus, Telenet and Voo, a trio of telecoms operators, are thought to have been vying 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.

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

Mediapro, the agency and production group, had previously shown interest in the rights as it targeted a long-term rights proposal.

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. The Pro League offered rights to not only the top-tier ‘1A’ and second-tier ‘1B’ divisions, but also the Supercup, the Belgian Cup and the women’s Super League, as rights were centralised across all competitions. 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.

Elsewhere, Pro League has decided to use additional cameras to support its video assistant referees (VAR) system. The new cameras will be placed on the goal line and will be used from the play-offs onwards.

An evaluation of the system will then take place before it is decided whether the additional cameras are used during the regular-season matches from 2020-21 onwards.