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Eleven Sports and Pro League discuss 23-club rights agreement

Antwerp players line up for an Anderlecht free kick during Jupiler League match on July 28, 2017 (Photo by Andy Astfalck/Getty Images)

Belgian football’s Pro League and subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports are discussing a 23-club media-rights agreement from 2020-21 onwards in the event that top-tier club Antwerp elects to remain excluded from a collective deal.

The Pro League last week voted in favour of a five-year contract with Eleven Sports, covering domestic and international rights to the top two Belgian divisions and worth €103m ($111.3m) per season between 2020-21 and 2024-25.

Antwerp, one of the leading ‘G5’ clubs, has refused to back a collective rights agreement in a row over the distribution of revenues between clubs, although Gent, which had initially opposed the deal, has come on board.

Eleven Sports held what it described as “very constructive” talks with Pro League yesterday (Tuesday) and the pair are now pressing ahead with plans for next season.

The specific plans are dependent on whether an agreement can be reached with Antwerp.

SportBusiness understands that plans for both a 24-club agreement (including Antwerp) and a 23-club agreement (if Antwerp choose to sell its own rights) are under discussion.

The bid made by Eleven Sports in the league’s invitation to tender was for rights to all member clubs’ matches.

Antwerp chairman Paul Gheysens expressed his determination to hold out for a greater share of revenues from the Eleven Sports deal when speaking to VRT’s Sporza on Sunday.

Asked if the club had been “turned around” on the broadcast rights issue, he said: “I don’t think we should turn around. They have to turn around. They must show solidarity and value us.”

He continued: “They must show solidarity, yes. And give a little more [money]. Not too much, but still what we’re worth.”

Incumbent live rights-holders Proximus, Telenet and Voo, a trio of telecoms operators, are thought to have vied for the rights with Eleven.

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 and previously its international rights distributor.

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.

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.

Increased inventory on offer in the tender maximised the league’s opportunity to drive up the value. The Pro League offered 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 were centralised across all competitions. All rights packages were 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.