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Pro League eyes longer European TV deals, new kick-off slot attracts Asian interest

Belgium’s Pro League is working with media rights-holder Eleven Sports, the subscription broadcaster, and the Mediapro agency to secure longer contracts with broadcasters in Europe, while a new 1:30pm (CET) Sunday kick-off slot has helped to secure new deals in southeast Asia.

Having acquired the domestic and international rights to the Pro League from 2020-21 to 2024-25 in a wider agreement worth €103m ($123m) per season, Eleven turned to Mediapro for assistance in selling the broadcast rights worldwide.

The international sales process was initially hampered by the ratification of the new league format only shortly before the start of the new campaign on August 8, following on from the early termination of the 2019-20 season amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, renewals have been signed off with some existing international broadcasters and deals in new markets have also been secured, with more agreements expected to be finalised in the coming weeks.

Speaking to SportBusiness, Pro League chief business officer Leander Monbaliu expressed the need for longer-term contracts in Europe to aid the league’s international development.

He said: “In Europe, we are looking for consolidated agreements for longer periods that will help us to create partnerships that in the end will help both the broadcaster as well as the property.

“In these longer-term deals, there is a clear engagement to construct a compelling story around the Pro League on each of the channels. For the League, this is a crucial part of our international development.”

In Europe, the Jupiler Pro League is being broadcast this season on Eleven’s own channels in Portugal and Luxembourg (as well as Belgium), while deals were also struck with the likes of Arena Sport (in the Balkans), Look Sport (Romania), Setanta Sports Eurasia, Šport TV (Slovenia), Tivibu Spor (Turkey) and Ziggo Sport (Netherlands).

The new Sunday late lunchtime kick-off time has helped spark interest in Asia and both Mola TV, the Indonesian OTT and pay-television platform, and RTM, the Malaysian public broadcaster, have been brought on as new broadcasters of the league. Elsewhere, Eleven and Mediapro negotiated an agreement in Japan and Canada with OTT streaming operator DAZN.

Interest is thought to have been strong in sub-Saharan Africa given the range of players from the region who ply their trade in Belgium.

Rights to the Belgian top flight were previously sold by the Spring Media agency, which came on board at the start of 2019 to help plug the gap left by the collapse of the MP & Silva agency, the previous rights seller.

Monbaliu described the international distribution as “definitely an aspect where we as a league have some margin and Eleven feel that as well and is eager to improve the distribution worldwide and give more attention to our league internationally”.

In order to drive additional interest among football fans globally, the Pro League recently entered into a deal with digital and social media agency 433 to generate and publish a range of online content promoting the competitions, with bespoke content being created for the clubs and players.

Pro League holds a fixed minimum guarantee and revenue-share agreement with Eleven Sports for the international broadcast rights. The value of the international broadcast rights is understood to have slightly more than doubled compared to the previous cycle, albeit with increased inventory, such as the second-tier 1B Pro League, Belgian Cup, Belgian Super Cup and women’s Super League, also included as part of Eleven’s package.

An added advantage of having awarded rights to Eleven, Monbaliu said, is that, as an OTT platform the broadcaster “has its own channels and is able to distribute them to certain dark markets”.

“The way they want to do it is as agnostically as they’re doing it domestically,” he added.

Eleven contract sign-off

The Pro League clubs voted in favour of the five-year agreement with Eleven at a meeting on February 12. Antwerp and Gent initially opposed the collective deal but subsequently signed up to support it as the gained full backing before the coronavirus crisis began to hit sports schedules and broadcasters’ budgets alike.

The agreement was not signed off until June 26, allowing for the usual back-and-forth on contractual issues and also discussion points around clauses brought into sharp focus by Covid-19.

Asked if the sports shutdown caused by the global pandemic had complicated the sign-off process, Monbaliu replied: “There were never real difficulties. Of course, certain clauses that before weren’t that important now became more important.

“That’s something we’ve seen in all of our agreements and every league has the same kind of discussions with its partners.”

“It wasn’t just about Covid, it’s always a process that takes quite long. The last deals with Telenet, Voo and Proximus were signed after the beginning of the season.”

Having just one main domestic rights-holder has also had its benefits, according to the league’s chief business officer.

“Before we had non-exclusive deals and we had a very good relationship with the broadcasters, but you always have different parties to discuss changes with and it’s not always beneficial for the investments you want to make as a league because every broadcaster has its own strategies,” he said.

“We’ve been able to involve Eleven in deals that are not only beneficial for the broadcasters but also for the league and clubs.”

Such deals have included a new agreement announced last week with sports data and technology company Stats Perform to exclusively collect and manage data through its Opta division, and with a heightened focus to provide in-match data to broadcasters. The Belgian Pro League also recently derived a marked increase in the value of its live betting streaming rights in its long-term deal with Stats Perform, as recently reported by SportBusiness Media.

The Pro League and Eleven also signed a multi-year deal with Israeli company WSC Sports to deliver real-time highlights, while an novel agreement was struck with financial group KBC for exclusive rights to ‘near-live’ mobile clips as well as non-exclusive online highlights rights.