What could Eleven Sports’ UK difficulties mean for pubs?

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Back on BT: the UFC will return to BT Sport after an exit clause in its UK deal with Eleven Sports was exercised
Back on BT: the UFC will return to BT Sport after an exit clause in its UK deal with Eleven Sports was exercised
With the UFC returning to BT Sport after rights holder Eleven Sports’ distribution deals fell through, The Morning Advertiser asked what the change of broadcaster means for pubs showing sport.

In July, Eleven Sports, owned by Leeds United FC owner Andrea Radrizzani, agreed a three-year deal for the UK screening rights to top-flight Italian football Serie A, which had been held by BT Sport for six years, as well as a three-year deal with Spain’s La Liga, which had been shown on Sky Sports for the past 20 years.

However, after acquiring said high-profile broadcasting rights, as well as the UK rights to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the service has failed to secure distribution deals via pay-TV platforms such as Sky and BT and may now face closure of its UK operation according to reports in The Guardian​.

It is understood that the service is not in financial difficulty and that its problems in the UK are in isolation.

A spokesperson for Eleven Sports told the BBC: "We are in discussion with our rights partners.

"Without carriage agreements with the existing platforms, alongside the challenges posed by rampant piracy, the market dynamics in the UK and Ireland are very hostile for new entrants."

In light of recent difficulties, the UFC has triggered an exit clause in its agreement with Eleven Sports and has since negotiated a multi-year deal with its previous rights holder BT Sport for exclusive broadcasting rights to live main events and more than 100 hours of non-live programming.

A spokesperson from BT commented: “BT Sport and UFC have been partners since our launch in 2013, and we’re delighted this will now continue. 

"This is great news for our pubs and clubs customers who can continue to show UFC with BT Sport.”

Pubs often overlooked

As reported by The Morning Advertiser​ in September, Eleven Sports stated it was hoping to deliver a solution to pubs that “works for everybody”​ after purchasing exclusive broadcasting rights to the UFC and top flight Spanish and Italian football.

However, amid recent difficulties, could La Liga and Serie A follow the UFC’s lead and exit deals with Eleven Sports, and could Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s club exploits return to sport pub screens sooner than expected?

Speaking to The Morning Advertiser​, tech, media and telephone company (telco) analyst Paolo Pescatore discussed what may happen to the broadcasting rights Eleven Sports holds in the UK in light of recent developments, and whether the likes of Serie A and La Liga could become available for pubs to show again.

“In the first instance, Eleven Sports is seeking to renegotiate its costly rights,” Pescatore explained. “If it fails to renegotiate, it then needs to secure distribution agreements with the telcos – which it has failed to do so far.

“Failing this, then the rights owner will regain control and offer them to other parties.

“The role of pubs is often overlooked. BT Sports and Sky are in prime position and are firmly the established players in the UK.”

High-risk strategy

Discussing Eleven Sports' current situation, Pescatore added: “Its move to acquire the rights was opportunistic.

“Ultimately, it was going to be extremely challenging to compete in a market dominated by Sky, followed by a strong challenger in BT Sports.

“Even if Eleven Sports is successful in renegotiating its rights, it is highly unlikely that consumers will sign up in their droves.

“It could try to secure distribution agreements with telcos on lower terms.

“The most likely scenario is that the rights are handed back and eventually sold back to either BT Sport or Sky.

“A new player might emerge such as Amazon or DAZN in acquiring Eleven Sports or the rights themselves (La Liga and Serie A).”

Broader repercussions

Pescatore expects Eleven Sports’ current situation to serve as a “wake up call and a reality check”.

“New players are driving up the cost of sports rights, not only in the UK but globally,” he explained.

“Prices must come down as consumers are unwilling to sign up to more services and, in particular, ones that are niche.

“More players might mean more choice for consumers, but it leads to fragmentation.

“Furthermore, streaming only services for live sports face numerous challenges in consumers' eyes in terms of how do I get this on the big screen and will the streaming quality be good enough?”

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