Eleven Sports will continue to show exclusive coverage of Spain’s La Liga in the UK and Ireland, but will lose the Italian Serie A and Dutch Eredivisie from the end of this month.
Eleven Sports said the move follows a ‘strategic decision to end our partnership with IMG’—the agency managing the rights. Eleven Sports, which launched online-only in the UK and Ireland in August, said it intended to continue offering La Liga beyond the current season. The operator agreed three-year deals for the UK rights to La Liga and Serie A starting from the 2018/19 season.
Premier Sports has taken over the UK rights to Serie A and the Eredivisie. The UK-based operator has pay TV channels on the Sky and Virgin Media platforms, an online player, and a Freeview channel called FreeSports on digital terrestrial.
Eleven Sports, while based in the UK, operates in several territories in Europe and Asia. The UK venture ran into difficulties in December when mixed martial arts sport UFC terminated its rights deal because Eleven was unable to secure carriage on pay TV. At the time the company blamed its problems not just on its failure to secure carriage agreements, but also ‘rampant piracy’.
The problems faced by Eleven Sports in establishing itself in the UK show the challenge of enterting a mature pay TV market. Its first challenge was to buy enough content to put together an attractive subscription product without the critical mass of subscribers to cover the cost of the rights.
Eleven Sports had succeeded in prising La Liga away from Sky and Serie A and the UFC rights from BT Sport. Here, it capitalised on the fact that both groups are trying to reduce their portfolios of rights. However, the failure for Eleven Sports to gain carriage with the UK’s two major pay TV platforms led to the cancellation of its deal with UFC, with the loss of Serie A and Eredivisie following.
Significantly, both rights have been picked up by Premier Sports (backed by Michael O'Rourke, previously the owner of Setanta Sports), which has been able to secure pay TV carriage. The wholesale agreement between Sky and BT, which will see the two companies selling one another’s sports channels to their subscribers for the first time, could well have killed off the chance of Eleven Sports getting a pay TV deal. In most of its other markets, including Belgium and Poland, Eleven Sports operates linear pay TV channels as well as an online product.
It remains to be seen whether Eleven Sports manages to survive with a much-reduced content offer built around La Liga. The company has withdrawn a one-year pass, with the only option now a one-month subscription costing £5.99 ($7.85) a month in the UK and €6.99 in Ireland. Reports suggest that Eleven Sports had signed up fewer than 50,000 subscribers.
While there is undoubtedly a significant following for La Liga in the UK, local leagues including the Premier League and EFL are more of a draw for fans. Also, a bundle of channels, with a range of sports channels alongside other services and on demand offerings, has a broader appeal and therefore better commercial prospects than a more niche sports offering.
Another factor holding back the prospects of sport-specific online offerings is that sports is mainly viewed live. While online services led by Netflix have enjoyed huge success in the UK and other markets, a large part of their proposition is the ability to time-shift and binge-view, something which is of course incompatible with live sport.
With Sky and BT as the pay TV market leaders, and Eurosport (owned by Discovery) and Premier Sports also available, Eleven Sports seems to have been one subscription product too many for the hard-pressed UK sports fan. Amazon Video, which has already started streaming line NFL and tennis and will have a Prermer League package from next season, is also in the market.