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Proximus echoes Telenet calls for Pro League refund, ends club sponsorships

Vincent Kompany of Anderlecht during Jupiler Pro League match on January 19, 2020 (Photo by Philippe Crochet / Photo News via Getty Images)

Proximus has joined fellow Belgian telecoms operator Telenet in calling for a repayment of a tranche of its broadcast rights fee if the country’s Pro League season is not completed.

Proximus has, like Telenet, informed the Pro League of its stance in the wake of the league’s move on April 2 to recommend the termination of the rest of the current campaign and ahead of the expected ratification to end the season.

The two telecoms operators, along with Voo, a third telco, share non-exclusive live rights to the Belgian top flight from 2017-18 to 2019-20 in deals worth around €80m ($86.1m) per season.

Proximus, which has also called time on its sponsorships of Belgian football clubs, said it had not been informed in advance of the league’s recommendation and that, if an acceptable solution cannot be reached on the resumption of the 2019-20 season, then it expects a “proportional reimbursement on the television rights fees paid”.

A statement from the telecoms operator read: “Proximus is surprised that the Pro League’s board of directors prefers to stop the competition early without seeking constructive solutions, as is the case in several European countries. In addition, the Pro League has made it clear that it does not even consider compensating rights-holders for the loss of a very important part of the championship (11 match days out of 40).

“Although it regrets this approach, Proximus remains ready to work with the Pro League to find constructive solutions for the benefit of clubs, their players and supporters, rights-holders and viewers.”

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 suggested that the extension of the competition beyond June 30 with the “necessary measures taken to guarantee the health of the players and fans” could be examined.

It is reported that the telecoms operators, including Voo, are looking to claw back their shares of the final €23m rights fee payment transferred before the coronavirus crisis took hold.

Telenet yesterday (Thursday) 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.

In response to the public statements made by Telenet and Proximus, the Pro League said: “In collaboration with the different rights-holders, we are looking for a suitable solution in a constructive manner.”

The Pro League’s live domestic rights deals with the telecoms trio are 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.

The telecoms operators lost out in the recent auction for rights from 2020-21 to 2024-25 onwards as subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports completed an exclusive deal. The agreement with Eleven Sports is worth €103m per season for domestic and international rights and was completed after outliers Antwerp and Gent signed up to the proposed agreement.

Contacted by SportBusiness, Eleven Sports declined to comment on the Telenet proposal to receive a share of broadcast rights next 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.

RTBF, the French-language public broadcaster, holds highlights rights until the end of this season. RTBF also currently 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.

End of the line for Proximus club sponsorships

Having lost out on the live rights from 2020-21 onwards, the telecoms operator will not extend its sponsorship deals with Pro League sides Anderlecht, Charleroi and Club Brugge.

Proximus is the domestic back-of-shirt sponsor at both Anderlecht and Club Brugge and the front-of-shirt sponsor of Charleroi.

Proximus was also Anderlecht’s shirt sponsor in European matches up until 2017.

The back-of-shirt deal with Anderlecht is thought to be worth between €1m and €1.5m per season. In return, the club committed to a content production spend to help Anderlecht activate the agreement.

Meanwhile, it is claimed that Proximus will no longer give its name to Belgium’s second-tier First Division B league. The current title sponsorship deal is worth around €200,000 per year.