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Pro League rights bids exceed €100m but clubs can’t agree on distribution

The domestic broadcast rights to Belgium’s Pro League from the 2020-21 season onwards have still to be awarded after clubs failed to agree on a revenue distribution model at Friday’s general assembly meeting.

Live rights bidders presented their proposals at the Parker Hotel near Brussels Airport but the rights remain unallocated.

Speaking to the press after Friday’s meeting, Pro League chief executive Pierre François said that the bids submitted have “reached and exceeded” the “symbolic bar” of €100m ($109.5m) per season, including international rights.

Incumbent live rights-holders Proximus, Telenet and Voo, the trio of telecoms operators, are thought to be vying for the rights with subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports.

Pro League announced on Friday evening that the clubs will reconvene on February 21 in an attempt to negotiate an agreement. However, SportBusiness Media understands that there will be more meetings tomorrow (Tuesday) to discuss the proposals and that the clubs could make a final decision on the award of the rights at a meeting this week.

On the issue of the clubs reaching an accord over the distribution of revenues, the league CEO said: “I sometimes feel that it is becoming more and more difficult for clubs to put the general interest ahead of self-interest. Given the offers we have received, I find this regrettable. But I hope I will be less pessimistic on February 21.”

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.

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

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 has been widely reported in Belgium that the highest bid after the first round totalled €92m per season.

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.

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

The Aser Media-owned 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.

Speaking four months ago, Guillaume Collard, Eleven Sports’ managing director in Belgium and Luxembourg, told Belgium’s L’Echo newspaper that a bid for the Pro League contract would be a “case of whether we can monetise the rights and get back the amount invested”.

He continued: “Because in addition to the rights fee you need to add the production, marketing etc. So we’ll put down what we think is the right price.”

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.

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.