Eleven hopeful of OTT future in the UK as rights deals renegotiated
By Jonathan Rest
Eleven Sports, the international subscription broadcaster, is in talks with the IMG and Mediapro agencies about converting its range of soccer media rights deals in the UK and Ireland into streaming contracts only, after repeated failures to agree carriage agreements with cable and satellite operators.
Reports emerged late yesterday afternoon that Eleven, owned by former MP & Silva co-founder Andrea Radrizzani, could be facing closure in the UK & Ireland, where it launched as recently as August, after failing to attract enough subscribers (the number is put at just 50,000 in one media report).
The service costs £5.99 ($7.58) a month in the UK and €6.99 ($7.95) a month in Ireland, but has struggled to agree terms with pay-TV broadcasters Sky and BT Sport and cable operator Virgin over carriage of its channels, which would have boosted its viewership.
A deal with Virgin was all but signed off in late October, but never actually materialised, putting Eleven's acquisition of rights to mixed martial arts' UFC from 2019 at risk.
UFC, which had been shown in the UK by BT Sport, had stipulated in its contract with Eleven that the company must have a TV distribution deal in place by early December, but when it never materialised UFC triggered an exit clause.
UFC will now stay on BT Sport's screens in 2019.
Eleven Sports today insisted that it is "business as usual" in the UK and Ireland, and that it will continue to stream its range of soccer action, which includes Italy's Serie A, the Netherlands’ Eredivisie and Sweden’s Allsvenskan, all acquired from IMG, which has a small stake in the broadcaster’s UK and Ireland operation, and Spain's LaLiga, acquired from Mediapro.
Eleven told Sportcal today: "Without carriage agreements with the existing platforms, alongside the challenges posed by rampant piracy, the current market dynamics in the UK and Ireland are very hostile for new entrants.
"We are in discussions with our rights partners, LaLiga and IMG, about how we can restructure our existing agreements in order to continue our current OTT streaming service."
Eleven Sports is hoping to retain the digital rights to these leagues, rights which it holds exclusively at present, while IMG and Mediapro would re-tender the linear TV rights.
LaLiga, previously shown by Sky, and Serie A, by BT Sport, are the two most attractive properties in the Eleven Sports' stable.
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 broadcaster sparked controversy among soccer authorities in October by streaming live coverage of LaLiga during the UK’s Saturday afternoon blackout window (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.”
Eleven Sports is also active in Portugal, Poland, Belgium, Taiwan, Italy, Luxembourg, Myanmar, Singapore and USA, and the broadcaster was keen to stress that these operations are not impacted by the UK and Ireland situation.