Belgian telco Belgacom has lost its exclusive hold on rights to the Jupiler League, Belgium's domestic football championship. In the new contract, running from three seasons from 2011/12, Belgacom was outbid for rights to the two most attractive packages. Telenet, which operates the Prime pay TV service in Flemish-speaking Belgium, and VOO, which will have rights to the same matches in French-speaking areas, won rights to the first, second and third choice matches per weekend. Free-to-air broadcasters VMMa and RTBF, bidding alongside Telenet and VOO, won Flemish and French highlights rights respectively.
Belgacom, which has held rights to the league since 2005/6, was awarded a package of the five remaining live matches, played on Saturdays. The overall value of the rights contract is €166m (€55m a season), up from the €134m (€47m a season) Belgacom has been paying. Belgacom said it will be reviewing its subscription pricing before the start of the new season on 29 July.
The offer of the Jupiler League has been key in driving the Belgacom IPTV service, which had 879,000 subscribers at the end of Q1 2011. There is no doubt that the loss of a large chunk of matches will undermine its appeal for some subscribers. As in most leagues, the top four Belgian clubs attract a large share of support. However, Belgacom argues that it will still be transmitting 25 per cent of the matches of the top five clubs on an exclusive basis, and will also cut the price of its premium sports package from €14.95 a month. Combined with the other services offered in Belgacom TV - 70 TV channels, video-on-demand and bundling with telephony and internet access, this will soften the blow for the less fanatical customers.
On the other hand, the addition of three most attractive Jupiler league matches per week will strengthen the appeal of Prime, which has also invested in rights to the Belgian national team's competitive matches. Pay TV broadcasters in Belgium last showed the league nine seasons ago. Anyone wishing to receive all televised weekly matches will, however, have to subscribe to two services with two separate decoders. Given that Telenet's attempt to have rights awarded on a non-exclusive basis was unsuccessful, the chances of some cross-marketing agreement being reached between Belgacom, Telenet and VOO appears remote.