SRG SSR loses live Champions League as CH Media wins sublicensed rights

Illustration at UEFA Champions League match between Young Boys Berne and Valencia (Photo by Sebastien Bozon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Swiss public-service broadcaster SRG SSR will no longer offer live Uefa Champions League coverage from the 2021-22 season onwards after being usurped by media and publishing group CH Media as the free-to-air rights-holder.

Pay-television broadcaster Teleclub, which holds exclusive rights in Switzerland to the Uefa club competitions during the 2021-24 cycle, has negotiated a sublicensing agreement with CH Media.

The deal will bring to an end the long-standing live coverage of Europe’s elite competition on SRG SSR’s channels with coverage to switch to CH Media’s free-to-air channels 3+ and TV24. The Swiss public broadcaster has shown live Champions League coverage since the tournament’s inaugural 1992-93 edition.

SRG SSR, which currently broadcasts one live Champions League match per match week (on Wednesday evenings), has managed to retain free-to-air highlights to the tournament, however.

In its sublicensing agreement with CH Media, Teleclub has sold on the live free-to-air rights to selected matches from the Champions League, second-tier Europa League and the new third-tier Europa Conference League for the next three-year cycle.

CH Media’s German-language 3+ and TV24 channels will broadcast a total of 23 matches per season from the trio of European tournaments, although the matches will also be shown on the free-to-air Teleclub Zoom channel in Switzerland’s French- and Italian-speaking regions. All matches will continue to be shown by Teleclub’s pay-television channels.

Six Champions League group-stage matches per season will be aired by 3+ and TV24, along with the final. There will be free-to-air coverage of 16 matches per season from the Europa League and Europa Conference League on the two channels, including the finals of both competitions. Free-to-air Europa League and Europa Conference League highlights have also been secured by CH Media in its deal with Teleclub.

Reacting to news of the rights loss, Roland Mägerle, the leader of SRG SSR’s sports unit, bemoaned that “in the Swiss rights market too, excessive sums of money are now offered for the coverage of international football”.

Mägerle, who said that the Swiss public broadcaster “tried everything” to extend the live rights and submitted a “very good offer”, continued: “[SRG] SSR cannot and does not want to pay such sums. As a media company funded by the licence fee, SSR set itself a limit in negotiating the broadcast rights for the European [club] competitions.”

During the last Swiss rights auction, in which the overall rights fee more than trebled, SRG SSR’s live Champions League output was diluted. The public broadcaster retained rights to one of its two fixtures per match week (from 2018-19 to 2020-21) and also secured a package of Europa League rights.

The 2018-21 cycle represented a strategic shift by Uefa and its appointed Team Marketing agency to derive greater value from deals with pay-television broadcasters. Indeed, upon announcing its agreement in the summer of 2017, SRG SSR claimed to be the “only free-to-air broadcaster in Western Europe to have succeeded in securing rights to football’s showpiece competitions”.

SRG SSR will be able to broadcast highlights on each match day during the new cycle, although Teleclub Zoom can also show its own highlights from 11pm (CET) onwards.
CH Media is to take the broadcast signal from the Teleclub channels.

In a further-tie up between the two broadcasters, 3+ is to broadcast next month’s 2019-20 Champions League final from Lisbon, plus the 2020-21 final. Teleclub Zoom will also broadcast next month’s final in the French- and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland (with pay-television coverage offered nationwide by Teleclub). The pay-TV operator offered free-to-air coverage of the 2018-19 Champions League and Europa League finals on Teleclub Zoom.

Roger Elsener, head of entertainment at CH Media, said that the media company, which was founded in 2018 in a joint venture between AZ Medien and NZZ Media Group, wants to strengthen its sports offering “for the long term and continue to develop it in the future”.

CH Media already holds a package of rights to Uefa European Qualifiers, Nations League and friendly matches between 2018-19 and 2021-22. It holds rights to 40 first-pick third-party matches.

The Switzerland-based Team Marketing initiated its sales process in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on October 30 and set a first-round bid deadline of December 3.

In completing a deal now for the new rights cycle, Teleclub was able to first assess the impact of the new free-to-air rights agreements in both Germany and Austria. Free-to-air channels from both countries are available to Swiss residents via basic cable television.