The Danish Superliga, Icelandic Top Football, Professional Football League of Kazakhstan, Latvian Virsliga, Northern Ireland Premiership, Norwegian Eliteserien, Polish Ekstraklasa, Slovak Super Liga and Swiss Super League announced earlier this year they would bundle their rights into a single package.
The Association of European Professional Leagues (European Leagues), which has previously brokered collective deals for sports data on behalf of its members, worked with Octagon to sell the rights and found willing partners in OneFootball and Eleven.
Both partners will show live matches free-to-air (FTA), complemented by a raft of shoulder programming and original content, and supported by advertising.
The hope was that the large number of games on offer from both winter and summer leagues would attract a partner willing to engage in a more innovative approach.
Many leagues have been dissatisfied with previous international rights deals that limited exposure through paywalls and provided little or no insight into who was watching matches. Others were simply unable to find a partner.
“Historically, international rights for smaller leagues have been an agency deal…and there’s been very little distribution or data and insight into who’s watching,” explained Chris Gerstle, head of business development at European Leagues, which promotes the growth of professional soccer in Europe. “What we have is a nice solution and what we hope is the start of a long-term project. We hope that more leagues will join in the future because of the flexibility this partnership provides.”
OneFootball shows matches from several leagues around the world on its mobile application, while Eleven Sports operates both an over-the-top (OTT) platform and linear channels in some markets. Crucially, both companies will provide the leagues with valuable viewer data to target new fans and enable new monetisation options in the future.
“We will test and learn and discover and improve,” said Nikolaus von Doetinchem, head of OTT and media rights at OneFootball. “We have given the leagues the security of a minimum guarantee but have also pledged their content will be out there.”
“We are very happy to be part of the deal as international coverage will increase our reach, giving us linear exposure in key markets and tap into areas where we are weaker like South America and Asia,” added Malgorzata Borkowska, media rights consultant at the Ekstraklasa.
The initial arrangement is for three years and there is nothing to stop other members of European Leagues signing up to the agreement when their existing broadcast deals expire. Although future monetisation options might include ecommerce, subscriptions or in-game monetisation, the initial focus of the project will be growing audiences.
“We shouldn’t be doing the second step until after the first step,” said von Doetinchem. “We hope that this partnership will go on beyond the three-year [deal] and then leagues can go down that road.”
“FTA is a very good starting point for us and maybe after the second year there might be other solutions,” Knut Kristvang, head of media rights at Norway’s Eliteserien, added. “But the [priority] is for us to get the Eliteserien out to European fans. Our clubs have said that this [deal] is important for us not just in terms of media rights but also so they can get their players out of Norway.
“We told the clubs about this deal yesterday and someone said: ‘It’s about time’.”