Pitch's collapsed free-to-air FIVB rights deal with Sport1 leaves German volleyball federation angry
By Martin Ross
A late free-to-air broadcast deal between Pitch International, the UK-based sports marketing agency, and Sport1, the German sports broadcaster, to show Germany’s FIVB Men’s World Volleyball Championship semi-final against hosts Poland on Saturday was scrapped at the behest of the rights-holder Polsat, the Polish pay-television broadcaster, it has emerged.
The cancellation of the proposed agreement has prompted criticism from the DVV, the German volleyball federation, which has claimed it was a "mistake" by Pitch to agree to the free-to-air deal in the first place.
Sport1 and Pitch are understood to have agreed a deal in principle on Friday, leading to the sports broadcaster announcing live coverage, but the deal was not approved by Polsat, which held global media and marketing rights to the championship, leaving German fans without live television coverage of the game, which Poland won 3-1 on their way to being crowned champions.
Thomas Krohne, the president of the DVV and also the chief executive of the Sportsman Media Group agency, did not hold back in his criticism of the agency, telling Die Tageszeitung, the German newspaper: ‘‘The agency Pitch, which works for the world federation [the FIVB], sold rights that it did not have at all. Sport1 was not allowed to broadcast the pictures on free-to-air TV.
‘‘We had a broadcaster that wanted to do it but received obstacles in its way because of a blatant mistake of a sports marketing agency.''
The match was shown, however, on Sportdeutschland.TV, the online television portal of the DOSB, the German Olympic sports federation.
Polsat is thought to have rejected the proposed free-to-air deal with Sport1 as the Polish broadcaster's position was that coverage in every territory must be encrypted and it had concerns about 'overspill' into Poland.
The unencrypted signal could, in theory, have been received via Astra satellite and enabled viewers to watch the German-language transmission free of charge in a market where Polsat was offering coverage exclusively on pay-television channels (with the exception of the opening match and final, which were made available on a free-to-view basis).
Pitch is understood to have sought to rescue the broadcast rights deal in Germany, but it is thought that Sport1 was not keen to show the semi-final on pay-television, and Polsat, which had to approve Pitch's rights deals for the tournament, did not want to backtrack from its stance.
Germany’s semi-final against Poland came 44 years after East Germany became the last German team to reach the last four of the World Volleyball Championship, and Krohne described the lack of free-to-air television coverage of the match as ‘‘first and foremost a catastrophe for our fans.’’
However, the position of the DVV that the failure to broadcast the match was a serious setback has been questioned in some quarters, given that no German broadcaster sought to tie up the rights to show Germany’s matches until Sport1’s last-minute request well into the tournament.
Polsat initially held global media and marketing rights to the championship in a deal agreed back in 2008 with the FIVB, before Pitch, which has decided against commenting publicly on the DVV’s criticisms, won a tender earlier this year to handle the international media rights in a deal covering all territories except Poland, Japan and Brazil.
In the wake of the 2014 championships, which drew to a close on Sunday, the FIVB praised Pitch’s distribution of television rights to 118 markets, with a further 92 markets offering online pay-per-view coverage via Perform’s LiveSport.tv, while Polsat is also thought to be pleased with the distribution by the UK-based agency.
Quoted within an article published on Sport1’s website ahead of Saturday evening’s semi-final clash and entitled ‘Poles Thwart TV Broadcast’, Olaf Schröder, the broadcaster’s managing director, sought to justify the reasons for the match not being shown after all, despite live coverage having been announced on Friday.
He said: ‘‘We have undertaken great efforts in the last few days to be able to show this match to the German TV public on free-to-air television.
‘‘Despite a valid contract closed yesterday [Friday] with the relevant agency, at short notice and on rights grounds we cannot make this historical encounter from a German perspective part of our programming, because of arrangements with Polsat that we had no knowledge of at the conclusion of the contract.’’
In Germany, a news access only deal for the championships was agreed with ZDF, the public-service broadcaster.
Krohne has also said that the issue had raised several questions and that the DVV will now seek talks with the FIVB.