Rivals Swisscom and UPC agree landmark distribution deal

Swiss telecoms operators UPC and Swisscom have reached a distribution agreement for their respective MySports and Teleclub pay-television platforms in a softening of relations between two broadcasters that have fiercely battled for sports rights in recent years.

The agreement will allow customers from either to access the other’s live sports content. It is expected to take effect in autumn, ahead of the new 2020-21 football and ice hockey seasons.

Announcing the deal, UPC said: “This agreement will benefit 1.8 million customers of UPC and the MySports distribution partners from Suissedigital [the trade association of Swiss communication networks], as well as 1.55 million Swisscom TV customers.”

This is a landmark agreement in Switzerland as UPC and Swisscom have been strong rivals in competing for sports rights over the last four years.

In 2016, UPC acquired rights to the top Swiss ice hockey league, from 2017-18 to 2021-22, which had previously been held by Teleclub. This was UPC’s first move into the Swiss sports rights market and signalled the start of the rivalry.

Swisscom responded to the deal to renew its rights to the Swiss Football League, the top-tier domestic football league, from 2017-18 to 2020-21. It also beat off UPC competition to acquire rights to Uefa’s club competitions, from 2018-19 to 2020-21; rights it has recently extended and enhanced from 2021-22 to 2023-24.

In 2017, Swisscom filed a complaint to the Swiss Competition Commission (Weko) over UPC’s failure to grant access to its exclusive ice hockey rights to all operators. Following an investigation, Weko rejected the bid for preventative measures to be taken against the new market entrant.

Baptiest Coopmans, chief executive officer at UPC, has said that the agreement, giving its customers the full sports and  entertainment offerings of Teleclub “has been a long-standing desire of ours”.

Urs Schaeppi, chief executive officer at Swisscom described the outcome as an “important milestone”.

The agreement, however, will not be welcome news to rights-holders to have benefited from the rivalry, which has produced sharp increases in sports rights fees since 2016.

In particular, this could affect the Swiss Football League, which is due to take its domestic rights, from 2021-22, to market this year.

Other affected stakeholders include operators in neighbouring Germany and France, which strike carriage deals in the country with both. As well as rights, the telcos have also competed over gaining carriage of other sports channels.

UPC agreed a deal with pay-television broadcaster Sky Deutschland, for exclusive access to its Germany Bundesliga coverage, until 2020-21.

Swisscom has carriage deals in place with telco Altice’s SFR Sport channels, which give its subscribers access to English Premier League football in Switzerland. It also has agreements in place with Sky, excluding Bundesliga coverage, and international media group Discovery.