Eleven Sports hit by poor take-up rate in UK

Eleven Sports has the UK rights to Serie A (above), LaLiga and UFC, among other sports.
Eleven Sports has the UK rights to Serie A (above), LaLiga and UFC, among other sports.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • Eleven Sports, the self-styled "Netflix of Sports" controlled by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani, could be facing closure in the UK & Ireland after failing to attract enough subscribers.

The service, launched less than four months ago, has the UK rights to sports including Italy's Serie A, Spain's LaLiga and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

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 created by the UFC triggering an exit clause on its exclusive deal with Eleven Sports, which was due to begin next month, 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 and continue with 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 & Ireland are very hostile for new entrants," said a spokesman for Eleven Sports.

"We are in discussion with our rights partners, LaLiga and IMG, about how we can restructure our existing agreements in order to continue our current OTT (streaming) service."

UFC, the 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 for 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 LaLiga, ending Sky's 20-year association with Spain's top flight.

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 (S$10.40) a month. 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.

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 London offices of IMG and MP & Silva, the sports rights agency co-founded by Radrizzani, were raided by officials from the European Commission investigating potential sports rights cartels.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'Eleven Sports hit by poor take-up rate in UK'. Print Edition | Subscribe