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Telenet wants Belgian Pro League refund or share of next season’s rights

Match between KV Mechelen and Standard de Liege, Friday 17 January 2020 (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Telenet, the Belgian telecoms operator, has asked for a refund on its advance broadcast rights payment for the country’s Pro League or the provision of broadcast rights next season to the value of the outstanding amount.

The operator, which holds domestic Pro League rights alongside fellow telcos Proximus and Voo from 2017-18 to 2019-20, has written to the league ahead of the expected ratification by the Pro League general assembly to terminate the 2019-20 season due to the ongoing Covid-19 shutdown.

Telenet said that it is “now formally asking the Pro League to discuss the refund of the advance payment for the television rights” and “review the options for recovering the money that was paid for matches” that are now not expected to be played.

On April 2, the Pro League board recommended the termination of the rest of the current campaign. Along with underlining that rights-holders were not “proactively informed” of this recommendation, Telenet said that it is not asking for a resumption of play given the health threats posed to players, but to “repay to the rights-holders a proportional amount of the money that has already been paid for the television rights”.

The statement continued: “After all, they paid for performances that will not be delivered, as a third of the competition will now not be played.”

Interestingly, Telenet has not only proposed a spread repayment of the rights fee over a certain period but, alternatively, the provision of rights “to the value of this amount to the three operators [Telenet, Proximus and Voo] for an equal number of matches of the following season”.

Pro League generates upwards of €80m ($86.2m) per season from its non-exclusive live domestic rights deals with Proximus, Telenet and Voo, 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.

However, 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.

Along with rights to the top-tier First Division A and second-tier First Division B, the deal 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.