Proximus and Telenet ‘consider arbitration proceedings’ over Pro League rights refund

Belgian telecoms operators Proximus and Telenet are looking at the initiation of arbitration proceedings against the Pro League, the country’s professional football league, over the repayment of a slice of their final broadcast rights fee for the uncompleted 2019-20 season.

The duo has been looking for compensation to be paid after the league moved on April 2 to recommend the termination of the rest of the current campaign in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Proximus told Belgium’s Het Nieuwsblad newspaper: “We see that football is still being played elsewhere in Europe. Meanwhile, the government also allows sports competitions in Belgium from July.

“We understand that the entire play-offs could no longer be played but perhaps more creative solutions should have been sought.”

Telenet is said to be weighing up an arbitration procedure at the Belgian Centre for Arbitration and Mediation (Cepani).

The two telecoms operators, along with Voo, a third telco, shared non-exclusive live rights to the Belgian top flight from 2017-18 to 2019-20 in deals worth around €80m ($89.8m) per season.

It is thought that the telecoms operators are looking for their proportional shares of the final €23m rights fee payment transferred before the coronavirus crisis took hold.

A total of 29 out of 30 regular-season match days had been completed when the league was halted because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ten play-off round match days had not yet started.

Proximus and Telenet are also reported to be looking to negotiate with Eleven Sports, the subscription broadcaster, over rights to Pro League matches next season. Eleven secured the Pro League domestic and international rights from 2020-21 to 2024-25 in a deal worth €103m per season.

Along with rights to the top-tier First Division A and second-tier First Division B, the new Eleven Sports agreement also includes the Belgian Cup, the Belgian Super Cup and the women’s Super League.

In April, Telenet issued a statement asking for a refund on its advance broadcast rights payment or the provision of broadcast rights next season to the value of the outstanding amount. Proximus then followed up with its own statement calling for a repayment.

At the time, Proximus said that if an acceptable solution could not be reached on the resumption of the 2019-20 season, then it expected a “proportional reimbursement on the television rights fees paid”.

The Pro League’s live domestic rights deals from 2017-20 with the telecoms trio were 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.

RTBF, the French-language public broadcaster, held highlights rights until the end of this season. RTBF also shared live rights to the Belgian Super Cup (with Telenet). Vier, the SBS-owned channel, held the main package of free-to-air Flemish-language highlights rights.

Non-exclusive clip rights deals were in place with the league’s live and highlights broadcasters, along with various publishing companies, including De Persgroep and Mediahuis.