Pro League approves Eleven Sports deal but duo threaten collective agreement

The general assembly of Belgium’s Pro League today decided to award domestic media rights to subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports from 2020-21 onwards, but resistance from two member clubs has prevented the collective rights agreement from being finalised

Pro League issued a statement this afternoon saying that the general assembly has “decided statutorily by a two thirds majority to award the media rights to Eleven Sports”.

However, the league said that, on the “basis of the result of the vote”, top-tier side KAA Gent has “decided not to participate in the sale of collective rights”.

The distribution of media revenues among clubs – one of the sticking points that was preventing the rights from being awarded – was today approved “by a large majority”, the league said. Yet, given the nature of the proposed distribution model, Antwerp has also opted against its participation in the sale of collective rights.

The threats from Gent and Antwerp would appear to raise the possibility that the duo could look to sell the rights to their own home matches.

Pro League said that it is “now looking at how the process will continue”.

Given that the proposal made by Eleven Sports was for rights to all member clubs’ matches, the broadcaster will now wait to hear back from Pro League on what the next steps are and as a solution is sought.

It is understood that Eleven bid €103m ($112.2m) per season for the domestic and international rights between 2020-21 and 2024-25.

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

The acquisition of rights by Eleven would be a major boon to the Aser-owned broadcaster after it lost out on the rights during the last auction. It would also represent the most high-profile domestic property secured by Eleven in any of the territories in which it operates.

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.

Speaking to the press after Friday’s clubs meeting, Pro League chief executive Pierre François said that the bids submitted had “reached and exceeded” the “symbolic bar” of €100m per season, including international rights.

The Belgian clubs convened today after failing to agree on a revenue distribution model at Friday’s general assembly meeting, when live rights bidders presented their “qualitative” proposals at the Parker Hotel near Brussels Airport.

Eleven Sports launched in Belgium in 2015 and is now profitable in the lowland country.

The broadcaster launched two channels in Belgium in August 2015 on Proximus’ platform and introduced its OTT service later that year. A third channel was added in 2017 thanks to the broadcaster’s increasing sports rights portfolio.

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.