No rights awarded by Belgian Pro League as new tender considered

Belgium’s Pro League has opted against awarding any domestic rights following the submission of bids by rival broadcasters and media groups, and is weighing up the possibility of launching a new invitation to tender process.

The league’s general assembly met today to discuss the bids submitted for the rights from the 2020-21 season onwards but did not award rights to any of the bidders.

Pro League said this afternoon: “The general assembly of the Pro League has decided not to award these rights on the basis of the current situation and plans to continue its consultations with the candidates who have submitted an offer as part of the current process.”

Furthermore, the general assembly has tasked the league’s management with “examining the possibility of launching a new tender, in consultation with the Belgian Competition Authority”.

The league’s move comes with Mediapro, the agency and production group, said to be vying for the rights with telecoms operators and incumbent live rights-holders Proximus, Telenet and Voo.

It has emerged that Mediapro proposed a potential 10-year rights agreement ahead of the tender. However, it is claimed that the proposal was rebuffed by the league given the proposed contract length and likelihood it would be rejected by Belgium’s competition authorities.

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.

It is understood that Mediapro did not, after all, submit a (four- or five-season) bid in the tender itself.

Given the heightened interest in the rights, the Pro League looks set to eclipse the domestic media-rights returns generated in the current cycle (from 2017-18 to 2019-20) and has targeted upwards of €100m ($108.6m) per season.

At present, the league generates upwards of €80m per season from live domestic rights deals with Proximus, Telenet and Voo, supplemented by highlights and near-live clip rights deals.

Increased inventory on offer this time also allows the league an opportunity to drive up the value. The Pro League is offering 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 are centralised across all competitions. All rights packages are being offered on a platform-neutral basis.

Véronique Thirion, prosecutor general at the Belgian Competition Authority, this week expressed her confidence that procedures would be followed correctly in the tender. She told Belgium’s Het Laatste Nieuws: “We are involved in the procedure from a distance. If there were irregularities then we would respond to them…but for now, I haven’t received any indications of that.”

Mediapro is launching subscription channels in neighbouring France on the back of its €780m-per-year contract for eight Ligue 1 rights packages from 2020-21 to 2023-24 (plus rights to Ligue 2). The company will also be involved in the host broadcast of Ligue 1 matches when its new contract takes effect.

However, there have been criticisms of the general lack of information coming from Mediapro over its plans to showcase the French leagues, with no distribution deals announced, and questions raised over the schedule of rights fee payments. Jaume Roures, chief executive of Mediapro, which was taken over by China’s Orient Hontai Capital in 2018, sought to allay any fears in October.

Mediapro does hold a 10-year rights agreement to broadcast the Canadian Premier League. In February 2019, Mediapro announced its 10-year agreement with Canadian Soccer Business, the body set up to represent club and national team commercial rights. As part of that tie-up, it launched its OneSoccer OTT platform to showcase the rights.

During the last tender process, Belgium’s telecoms operators overcame a bid from subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports to secure the rights.

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.