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Eleven agrees VRT content deal before Pro League kick-off but no Telenet distribution

Mouscron's Benjamin Van Durmen (Photo by STRINGER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Flemish public-service broadcaster VRT has tied up a highlights content deal for Belgian football’s top-tier Pro League with Eleven Sports but carriage talks between the subscription broadcaster and telco Telenet have not led to an agreement ahead of the kick-off of the new season tomorrow (Saturday).

Eleven Sports has agreed a five-year deal with VRT that affords the broadcaster content rights to continue broadcasting its long-running Monday-evening Pro League magazine programme.

VRT has also acquired live radio rights and highlights rights that it can showcase from Sunday evening on its Sporza website and app. Highlights rights from the women’s Super League have also been secured by VRT for the first time.

As part of the “content partnership” announced by both broadcasters, Sporza reporters and commentators, including Filip Joos, Peter Vandenbempt and Aster Nzeyimana will contribute to Eleven Sports’ Pro League coverage.

The deal follows on from Eleven’s five-season highlights deal with Belgian French-language public-service broadcaster RTBF. Eleven, which is paying €103m ($121.4m) per season during the 2020-25 cycle for its exclusive global rights to Belgian football, is launching three dedicated Belgian football channels as the new season begins.

No announcement has yet been made on the destination of the main Dutch-language highlights rights. Commercial broadcaster Vier held the free-to-air Dutch-language highlights rights in the 2017-20 cycle.

Belgium’s Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper has reported that VRT and commercial broadcaster VTM are “unwilling to agree a deal under the current conditions” and that Eleven would consider the alternative of broadcasting highlights directly via social media platforms.

Telenet, which held live broadcast rights during the previous cycle, has still to agree terms with the subscription broadcaster to distribute its Pro League channels and will go into this weekend’s opening fixtures without a deal in place.

As a result, Telenet has offered customers a discount of €10 per month on their Play Sports subscriptions until an agreement can be reached with Eleven. Telenet customers who would miss out on the opening weekend of coverage are able to subscribe directly to Eleven Sports’ app.

Jeroen Bronselaer, head of residential marketing at Telenet, said: “We realise how important football and their favourite club are for many of our subscribers, especially in times when we can’t go to the stadium. We want to go far to offer the supporters Belgian football, but we must not lose sight of a market price for the broadcasting rights.”

A distribution deal with Voo, another telecoms operator, is understood to be on the verge of completion, however. A five-year distribution deal was also announced this evening with Télésat/TV Vlaanderen.

Eleven has already agreed distribution deals for the channels with fellow telcos Proximus and Orange.

In June, it was reported that Telenet and Proximus were considering the initiation of arbitration proceedings against the Pro 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.

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

Meanwhile, the Pro League today unveiled its new anthem after a collaboration with electro band Soulwax, sound agency Sonhouse and Eleven Sports.

The league said that it made a “conscious choice” to move “away from the traditional orchestral sports hymns, towards a contemporary sound”.

Leander Monbaliu, chief business officer of the Pro League, said: “The result represents what we want to stand for: innovative, away from traditional paths, but widely accessible and connecting. Together with the supporters and fans, we are looking forward hearing the anthem for the first time before the match.”