Eleven Sports poised for first UK carriage deal
By Martin Ross at Sportel Monaco
Eleven Sports is poised to sign off on its first carriage deal for its channels in the UK in an agreement with Virgin Media, the digital television and telecoms provider.
Having launched its over-the-top subscription service in the UK and Ireland in August, Eleven Sports has been in negotiations with the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin about wholesale agreements.
A deal with Virgin is set to be the first to be announced and the final technical details are currently being settled.
The addition of Eleven Sports 1 HD and Eleven Sports 2 HD on Virgin Media could help to apply some pressure on BT and Sky, as the Aser-owned broadcaster continues talks with the pay-TV duo.
Coverage of LaLiga and Serie A represent the two flagship rights agreements for a broadcaster that went live in the UK with coverage of golf’s US PGA Championship and has since added the LPGA tour to its portfolio. Rights to the Netherlands’ Eredivisie and Sweden’s Allsvenskan were also acquired from IMG, the agency that has taken a small stake in the broadcaster’s UK and Ireland operation.
Rights to mixed martial arts’ UFC have also been acquired from 2019 in a long-term deal.
Virgin Media told Sportcal today that it has “had discussions with Eleven Sports but no deal has been agreed.”
Speaking earlier this month on the subject of the lengthy carriage negotiations, one pay-TV operator told the Telegraph: “We can just make them sweat. If we’re not losing many customers because we don’t have that content, then they will need to come to us with a good price. If they don’t we can just pick up rights when they go bust.”
In response, Marc Watson, Eleven Sports’ executive chairman and group chief executive, said: “We don’t need to do those deals but we would like to because we think it makes sense for customers and at the end of the day it is the customer that is the boss.”
On Eleven Sports’ positioning, he remarked: “In the UK what we see is a gap for an independent premium sports service because there isn’t one.
“There’s one tethered to BT, there’s one tethered to Sky and both of them are very premium, meaning that they’re quite expensive. There’s a gap for an independent player making the service available to everybody at an affordable price.”
Sky and BT’s premium sports channels are already available on the Virgin Media platform (on a subscription basis) but the likes of Eurosport 1, Eurosport 2, At The Races and FreeSports are within the basic-tier package.
Eleven Sports 1 houses the broadcaster’s soccer content, whereas Eleven Sports 2 has been marketed as offering “live premium fight sports, eSports and extreme sports for dedicated fans, plus football overspill from Eleven Sports 1.”
The OTT service has been priced at £5.99 ($7.78) per month in the UK and €6.99 ($8) per month in Ireland.
The broadcaster recently sparked controversy among soccer authorities by streaming live coverage of LaLiga during the UK’s Saturday afternoon blackout window (of between 2.45pm and 5.15pm). Eleven has since relented, citing “respect for the wishes of our partners,” and following “intense pressure from stakeholders within the football establishment.”