UK, Nordics and Israel among markets to pick up live Ekstraklasa rights
By Jonathan Rest
The Ekstraklasa, Polish soccer's top tier, is to be televised in at least 16 countries when the 2019-20 season resumes at the end of this month, with broadcasters snapping up the rare chance to show live games.
With the Ekstraklasa to return from the coronavirus-enforced suspension on 29 May, the league announced earlier this month it was offering two extra games per week to broadcasters outside of Poland for the remainder of the season, which has 88 matches to complete (11 rounds).
The matches are being offered non-exclusively, as they will also be available on Ekstraklasa.TV, the league’s OTT service, which has more than 150,000 subscribers.
In the UK and Ireland, pay-television operator Premier Sports has struck a deal with the Ekstraklasa, and will show two matches live per round of fixtures on its FreeSports channel in the English language.
Premier Sports has built up a strong soccer portfolio over the last year, with Spain's LaLiga, Italy's Serie A, the Netherlands' Eredivisie, North America's MLS and the Chinese Super League on its books.
Richard Sweeney, chief executive of Premier Sports, said: "This is great news for all football fans in the United Kingdom who will be able to follow the PKO Bank Polski Ekstraklasa games on their TVs. From each round we will show live two matches completely free of charge via the TV platform and our Free Sports app."
A similar agreement is also in place in Israel with the Sports Channel, the cable and satellite sports broadcaster, while Sportdigital, the German subscription sports television and internet broadcaster, has broadened its existing deal with the Polish top flight in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to show an additional 10 games per season in both 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Ahead of this season, it had agreed to show 30 Ekstraklasa games per season.
Spring Media, the Stockholm-based sports media and marketing agency, has landed a more significant package of 50 matches (with the option of all remaining 88) which it will sell on in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Indeed the agency has already agreed a deal with Norwegian media group Amedia to stream matches on Direktesport, the largest sports streaming website in the country.
An exclusive rights deal is already in place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Slovenia and North Macedonia, where Telekom Austria's Planet Sport TV shows matches. As a result Ekstraklasa.TV does not offer live matches in the Balkans.
Ekstraklasa president Marcin Animucki said: "We want to use the interest in our league, which will be one of the first in Europe after the epidemic, to promote our games and our own OTT service - Ekstraklasa.TV. By design, we sell two matches in each round under non-exclusive licenses. We conduct talks directly with broadcasters, but also with agencies dealing in the sale of media rights in various markets and intermediaries offering support in selected territories, we also talk with external OTT platforms.
"At this stage, according to already signed agreements, matches of PKO Bank Polski Ekstraklasa will be shown this season in at least 16 countries. We expect further contracts to be signed in May or early June."
Signal pick-up costs at BT Tower in London are to be borne by the broadcaster.
In Poland itself, Ekstraklasa rights are held by Canal Plus, the pay-television operator, and TVP, the public-service broadcaster, in two-season deals worth almost 250 million zlotys ($59.3 million) per annum.
With matches to be played behind closed doors, the league and Canal Plus have teamed up with a club-specific initiative for the remainder of the 2019-20 season related to the broadcaster's newly-launched streaming offering for non-paying TV subscribers.