Eleven Sports may be facing closure in UK and Ireland

Online sports streaming platform has struggled to attract enough subscribers

Eleven Sports struck a three-year deal with La Liga but  are now in talks about restructuring it. Photograph: Quique Garcia/EPA

Eleven Sports struck a three-year deal with La Liga but are now in talks about restructuring it. Photograph: Quique Garcia/EPA

 

Eleven Sports, the self-styled “Netflix of Sports” controlled by the Leeds United owner, Andrea Radrizzani, could be facing closure in the United Kingdom and Ireland after failing to attract enough subscribers.

The service, which launched less than four months ago, has the UK and Ireland rights to sports including Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Eleven Sports, which was forced to stop its controversial practice of broadcasting European games on Saturday afternoons after pressure from football stakeholders, is aiming to renegotiate rights deals to avoid pulling the plug on its service.

The situation has been triggered by the UFC triggering an exit clause on its exclusive deal with Eleven Sports, which was due to begin in January, after Eleven Sports was unable to secure promised distribution via pay-TV platforms including Sky, Virgin Media and BT.

Eleven Sports is aiming to renegotiate its sports rights deals at a much cheaper rate to try to continue to operate a much smaller, commercially viable operation in the UK.

“Without carriage agreements with the existing platforms, alongside the challenges posed by rampant piracy, the current market dynamics in the UK and Ireland are very hostile for new entrants,” said a spokesman for Eleven Sports. “We are in discussion with our rights partners, La Liga and IMG, about how we can restructure our existing agreements in order to continue our current OTT [streaming] service.”

UFC, the increasingly popular mixed martial arts competition, is understood to be back in talks with the previous rights holder BT about a new broadcast deal.

Eleven Sports is preparing to hand back the TV rights to Serie A to IMG, which acts as agent, which would allow them to be resold. The streaming service secured the rights to Serie A in July in a three-year deal, ending BT’s six year association with Italy’s top league.

In May Eleven Sports struck a three-year deal with La Liga, ending Sky’s 20-year association with Spain’s top-flight football league. La Liga sells its rights directly to media partners.

Eleven Sports has attracted only about 50,000 subscriptions since its UK launch in August, according to the Telegraph which broke the news of the streaming service’s difficulties. Eleven Sports charges £5.99 a month. In Ireland the monthly fee is €6.99 or €70 per year.

The rival sports streaming service Dazn, which is owned by the Warner Music owner and Spotify investor Len Blavatnik, has said it will not launch in the UK because the market is too competitive. Dazn is live in seven countries and will be live in 20 markets by 2022.

Endeavour, the Hollywood talent agency which owns UFC and IMG, holds a minority stake in Eleven Sports UK and Ireland.

Eleven Sports, which also operates in markets including Poland and Portugal, is controlled via the holding company Aser which in turn is controlled by Radrizzani.

In April the Guardian revealed that the London offices of IMG and MP & Silva, the sports rights agency co-founded by Radrizzani, had been raided by officials from the European commission investigating potential sports rights cartels.

European investigators entered the offices of IMG and MP & Silva on April 10th as part of a series of raids timed simultaneously including at the 21st Century Fox subsidiary Fox Networks Group, which is based in west London, and Ziggo Sport, the Dutch subsidiary owned by Vodafone and Virgin Media parent Liberty Global. – Guardian

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