Telenet delivers Pro League ultimatum: money back or matches next season
Telenet, the Belgian telecoms and pay-TV broadcaster, has requested a refund on its advanced payment for rights to domestic soccer's Pro League or an equivalent share of next season’s games with the 2019-20 season on the brink of being cancelled.
Earlier this month, the league’s board of directors made a recommendation to its 16 clubs to terminate the remainder of the campaign due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, at the time becoming the first European league to make this unprecedented move.
A cancellation of the season was always going to present an obvious issue with the league’s rights-holders as they will be unable to broadcast the remaining games, which includes the season-ending championship play-offs featuring the top six teams and determines the league winners.
There is also one round of games in the regular season outstanding.
Telenet holds non-exclusive domestic broadcast rights along with fellow telecoms firms Proximus and Voo.
The trio pay a combined €80 million ($86.1 million) per year for the rights and have already paid up for this season, their last as Pro League rights-holders.
Stefaan Kestens, Telenet’s product and acquisitions manager for sport, recently told Sportcal that the company was looking into its options and was seeking talks with the Pro League before deciding what action to take regarding the remainder of its contract.
With the recommendation of the board of directors set to be ratified by the league’s general assembly, Telenet is “now formally asking the Pro League to discuss the refund of the advance payment for the television rights” and “wants to review the options for recovering the money that was paid for matches that will not be played.”
The telecoms firm added: “In early April, the board of directors of the Pro League advised that the competition should be ended. Rights-holders were not proactively informed of this. It goes without saying that Telenet agrees that the health of players and fans takes absolute precedence.
“The demand is therefore not to resume the competition, but to repay to the rights-holders a proportional amount of the money that has already been paid for the television rights. After all, they paid for performances that will not be delivered, as a third of the competition will now not be played.”
Telenet has sent an official letter to the Pro League and “is open to further talks to see how a refund could take place in a manner that works for all parties.”
The company has presented the league with two options: to spread the refund over a period; or to provide broadcasting rights to the value of this amount to the three operators [Telenet, Proximus and Voo] for an equal number of matches for the 2020-21 season.
The latter option is complicated by the fact that Proximus, Telenet and Voo’s existing four-year deal with the league will expire at the end of this season after which Eleven Sports, the international subscription broadcaster, will hold the rights in an agreement worth €103 million per year which runs until the end of the 2024-25 campaign.
The incumbents had tabled an offer of their own worth €102 million annually in an effort to retain the rights.
Since the Pro League announced its intention to end the season, the Dutch Eredivisie and the Scottish Professional Football League have also taken the same action with their respective competitions.
Meanwhile, Proximus will not renew its sponsorship deals with Pro League trio Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Charleroi.
The company’s individual contracts with the respective clubs was due to end this summer but the teams were hoping to secure an extension.
Anderlecht enjoyed a long-term relationship with the telecoms operator and had the largest contract of the three clubs, worth around €1.5 million per year.
Proximus was Charleroi’s main shirt sponsor, in a deal worth €800,000 per year, while it served as the back-of-shirt sponsor for both Anderlecht and Club Brugge.
The three clubs will now have to enter the market to find a replacement amid the coronavirus crisis and uncertainty about when soccer will resume in the country.
Proximus did not provide a reason for terminating its deals with the top-flight clubs and only stated “we want to refocus our brand.”
The firm’s wider involvemenet in the Pro League could also be in doubt as it is also the title sponsor of the Belgian second division, known as the Proximus League.
Proximus said its sponsorship of the second-tier will be “evaluated independently.”
In a statement issued to Sportcal earlier this month, Proximus said it was also seeking to find a “constructive solution” with the Pro League in regards to its broadcast rights contract and the remaining fixtures it will now not show.