Eleven Sports launches new verticals in revamp and gears up for Pro League kick-off
By Simon Ward
Eleven Sports, the international subscription broadcaster, has today unveiled a rebrand, which marks its five-year anniversary and comes with new verticals in women’s sport, domestic sport and esports, and plans for a new digital global hub.
The group’s ‘2.0 strategy’ is initially focused on its core European markets of Belgium, Portugal and Italy, but will be expanded to the broadcaster’s other territories in early 2021.
The company already offers prominent soccer and other sports properties in the eight countries where it is active and is targeting further premium rights in these markets as well as looking to build its profile worldwide.
Belgium is a key territory for Eleven given that it has landed domestic rights to the Pro League, the nation’s top soccer league, in a five-year deal which comes into effect for the 2020-21 season starting this month, and has been negotiating distribution deals for its new channels showing the league.
In addition, the company has now sealed a sub-licensing deal with RTBF, the country’s French-language public-service broadcaster, to offer highlights of the league over the course of the contract.
However, there is an extra layer of complication with the Pro League set to be expanded from 16 to 18 teams for the new campaign as a result of a court ruling.
Eleven was launched by Aser Ventures, the investment vehicle of Italian media executive Andrea Radrizzani, on multiple platforms in 2015, and, in addition to the aforementioned countries, has operations in Luxembourg, Taiwan, Japan and Myanmar.
Rights vary from market to market but include major soccer competitions such as England’s Premier League, Spain’s LaLiga, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and Europe’s Uefa Champions League, Formula 1 and the NBA, as well as domestic sports within particular territories.
Eleven’s strategy will continue to be based on its OTT and social platforms but there are new areas of focus in terms of content, with the Eleven Women, Eleven Next and Eleven Esports verticals, which are intended to reflect areas of growing demand from viewers.
The first platform will feature top women’s sport from around the world, including, in the first place, Belgium's Women's Super League, “with a wider programme of global rights already in development.”
Eleven Next will feature local sport using as a template the company’s strategy in Italy where Eleven offers live streaming of the lower-tier Serie C and Serie D soccer leagues.
Meanwhile, the Eleven Esports platform aims to build on the broadcaster’s commitment to competitive video gaming, with it having streamed more than 200 events during the Covid-19 lockdown.
After having to scale back its plans in the UK and Ireland where it was unable to strike carriage deals with leading pay-TV platforms after landing rights to LaLiga and Serie A, it is not clear if and when Eleven plans to expand to other individual markets.
However, there are plans to launch a digital global hub this year offering a combination of live sport and other content. It is understood this is likely to feature competitions for which Eleven has acquired global rights or domestic events seeking worldwide exposure.
The new strategy is being driven by Luis Vicente who joined Eleven, as chief executive, from Fifa, at the start of this year, with a mandate to take the company “to the next level.”
He succeeded Marc Watson who retained the role of executive chairman and board director of Aser.
Hailing Eleven’s achievement in developing a new type of sports platform over the last five years, Vicente said today: “We’ve built a global community of fans, a world-class portfolio of rights and a host of platform innovations that differentiate us from our competitors. We have disrupted the status quo to democratise access to the best sports content and delivered on our mission to be fully platform-agnostic and fan-centric.”
Looking ahead, he said: “We are now the guardians of this amazing legacy and our Eleven 2.0 approach will build on the fantastic work that’s already been done. With our new Eleven 2.0 strategy we’re going to accelerate our journey with thousands of hours of additional live content every year, an innovative digital first and data led approach and continuous investment in premium rights alongside new investment in longtail and newtail rights in virtual and traditional sports.
“We are convinced about the massive untapped potential in the new brand vehicles we’ve announced and we are excited about the opportunities we can deliver for more sports, athletes and fans around world, in a true spirit of co-creation and joint venture.”
Eleven won the media rights to the Pro League in a deal valued at €103 million ($121 million) per year, and is preparing for the start of the season next weekend.
Eleven has brought in Mediapro, the Spanish media rights and production agency that was an unsuccessful bidder for the domestic rights in Belgium, to produce the coverage of the league and assist with the sale of global media rights, and Proximus Media House, the production arm of the Belgian telecoms firm, to produce the three new channels focused on domestic competitions.
There are also distribution deals in place with Proximus and Orange.
The new channels will show matches from the top-tier 1A, second-tier 1B, the Women’s Super League, the Belgian FA Cup, the knockout cups competition, the Belgian Super Cup and esports’ E-Pro League, along with documentaries, reports and interviews.
In addition, Eleven has now secured a deal with RTBF to show highlights of the Pro League through its ‘Studio Foot’ and ‘Le Week-end Sportif’ shows on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and in discussion show ‘La Tribune’ on Monday nights, from 2020-21 to 2025-26.
The two networks will also collaborate editorially with RTBF presenter and journalist Benjamin Deceuninck providing comment on matches for the Eleven channels, and RTBF showing Eleven coverage of the Women’s Super League.
A deal has yet to be announced for Flemish-language highlights rights to the Pro League, held in the last three-year cycle by free-to-air commercial broadcaster Vier.
Meanwhile, the top flight is set to kick off with 18 teams, two more than envisaged, after a court ruled that Waasland-Beveren, which were relegated at the end of the 2019-20 season, should be reinstated.
The club had gone to the Belgian court of arbitration for sport (BAS) arguing that as the season was terminated early because of the coronavirus pandemic their demotion was not justified.
The court ruled that the Pro League would have to be pay a fine of €2.5 million for every match played without the club.
As a result, a new structure has been agreed for the 2020-21 season, with Waasland-Beveren reprieved and joined in the top division by OH Leuven and Beerschot Wilrijk, the two clubs that contested the promotion play-off.