Belgium's Pro League ready to draft domestic tender after format approved
By Jonathan Rest
The Pro League, Belgian soccer's top flight, is set to begin drafting its domestic rights tender, effective from 2020-21, after finally agreeing on a competition format in the new cycle.
Domestic Pro League rights are contracted until the end of the 2019-20 season, but a new tender could not be drawn up because there was some debate over the future make-up of Belgium's top two leagues.
That was settled yesterday at a Pro League general assembly, where KRC Genk chairman Peter Croonen (pictured centre) was unanimously elected as the league's new president, succeeding Anderlecht owner Marc Crouke, who quit last month.
Pierre Francois, chief executive of the Pro League, admitted the timeframe was "tight" to get the best domestic TV deal possible.
He said: "We have started to work, but we only have a year left to conclude the agreement. It is tight, but management knows how to handle such a file well. Stability is very important in the context of the TV contract, and this is the case now that the format is known."
Two proposals for competition change were on the table: a top-flight of 20 professional clubs; and a 14-team top-flight, with a second-tier of 12 teams.
A two-thirds majority was required to make a change, but in the end the clubs voted to maintain the status quo of 16 Pro League and eight First Division B teams.
The convoluted play-off structure will also remain in place: Play-offs 1 - contested by the top six clubs in the Pro League regular season, with each club playing the others twice; and Play-offs 2 - contested by the teams placed seventh to 15th in the Pro League (the 16th-placed team is relegated) joined by three teams from the First Division B and divided into two groups of six teams. The winners of both groups play a single match to determine the overall playoff winner, with the winner playing the fifth-placed team from Play-off 1 in a single match for the final Europa League place.
Speaking after his election, Croonen said the Pro League has "the ambition to increase the amounts once again" from the domestic TV deal, worth more than €80 million ($89.2 million) per season, adding: "That's why it was so important to conclude the discussions on the formula of the competition.
"I think it's largely thanks to these play-offs that TV rights are constantly increasing, and that our place in the Uefa ranking [eighth] is also enviable. I know that everyone does not share this view [about the play-offs] but I am personally convinced that there is a correlation between the play-offs and the phenomena of rising rights fees."
Francois added: "It is now important to prepare the tender and steer the process in the right direction. Subsequently, we will submit the agreement to the board of directors for approval."
The new domestic rights tender will cover 2020-21 to 2022-23, albeit there has yet to be any concrete guarantee that Anderlecht and Standard Liege, traditionally Belgium's two biggest clubs, will not look to break from the collective rights selling agreement for the next cycle.
The duo have previously been linked with moves to market their own rights, believing the collective approach does not maximise their earnings potential, and Anderlecht and reigning Pro League champions Club Brugge are reported to be leading the campaign this time around, Het Nieuwsblad, the respected Flemish-language newspaper, reported last month.
The Pro League is bringing in over €80 million per season from its broadcast rights in the present three-year cycle in a tender process run by the league and its former adviser, the now-defunct MP & Silva agency (see table).
The bulk of rights are held by telecoms trio Telenet, Voo and Proximus.
MP & Silva began selling the league’s international rights in 2014-15 after signing a six-year agreement with the Pro League that also covered the sale of domestic rights.
The Pro League is expected to handle the sale of domestic rights itself, but has tasked Spring Media, the Stockholm-based sports media and marketing agency, with helping to sell international rights until at least the end of the 2019-20 season.
|Rights packages awarded in Jupiler Pro League tender 2017-18 to 2019-20|
|Lot 1||Live TV rights to all matches (including 'TV everywhere' services)||Telenet||Non-exclusive|
|Lot 2||Live internet and mobile rights only to all matches||Telenet||Exclusive|
|Lot 3||Live Super Cup rights||Telenet||Exclusive|
|Lot 4||Internet and mobile rights to near-live and delayed||Telenet||Non-exclusive|
|Lot 5||Free-to-air highlights rights||Telenet||Exclusive|
|Lot 6||Monday evening magazine show||VRT||Exclusive|
|Source: Pro League|