Eleven Sports not ruling out premium rights additions in Italy
Eleven Sports, the international pay-TV broadcaster, has not ruled out adding premium properties to the portfolio of rights acquired in Italy through its purchase last week of a majority stake in Sportube, the Italian internet broadcaster.
Italy will become Eleven Sports’ seventh market this summer when the Sportube service, known for its coverage of Italian lower-league soccer and second-tier sports, is rebranded.
Premium rights secured by Eleven in various international markets include LaLiga (in Belgium, Luxembourg and Poland), the Bundesliga (in Poland from 2017-18), the Premier League (in Taiwan) and Serie A (in Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Singapore and Taiwan), although there is only a small rights budget in place for the newly-launched service in USA.
Asked where the Italian service will be positioned, Danny Menken, Eleven Sports’ group managing director, told Sportcal: “The current offer that Sportube has is more tier-two rights. However, it’s a very successful business so we definitely don’t want to change that. We need to see what kind of rights we’re going to add.
“I don’t say that we won’t add any tier-one rights. We are very ambitious.”
The headline invitation to tender to hit the Italian market soon is the Serie A rights auction, although Menken (pictured) was tight-lipped when asked if Eleven could try and pick up a package of digital rights for its new over-the-top platform in Italy.
He said: “I don’t want to react on specific rights, especially as we haven’t made our rights strategy yet. As always, we are looking at every opportunity and if we believe there is a feasible, viable business case then we will go for it.”
On the acquired stake he remarked: “We’re looking at growing the business. With which kind of rights that is, we don’t know yet as we just acquired it. It’s a successful profitable business with a loyal following.”
“We will build it out, whether that’s with tier one or tier two sports we don’t know yet. But as an acquisition on its own it’s a very good one for us.”
Menken and Marc Watson, Eleven Sports’ executive chairman, will oversee the entry into Italy and Marco Pistoni, formerly of pay-TV’s Sky Italia and the Infront Sports & Media agency, will oversee day-to-day operations as president, working alongside Bruno Stirparo, the current Sportube chief executive.
Rights held by Sportube, which was founded in 2010, include matches from Italian soccer’s third-tier Lega Pro and amateur leagues, plus the country’s top-tier volleyball, badminton and water polo leagues, domestic and international fencing, and motor sports series including the Italian Rally Championship and top motorcycling championship.
The platform introduced a pay-per-view system in August last year and Menken does not envisage any radical overhaul in the model.
He noted: “They have free content and content behind a paywall. For sure we will continue with that because it has proven to be successful. In all the markets [we are active] it’s a subscription [model]. However, we have some content before the paywall, [be it] clips or highlights etc. Our model is evolving and changing every day.
“We are definitely going to look at the model [in Italy] and see where we can make some improvements that will improve the product even more for the consumer.”
The likes of the Lega Pro and volleyball league sit behind a paywall on Sportube, with packages available on a match-only or season pass.
Meanwhile, the prospect of Eleven offering a linear TV channel in Italy down the line has not been discussed internally, according to Menken.
On the specific marketing plans this summer as the name change from Sportube to Eleven Sports is enacted, he explained: “We will fully rebrand it as Eleven at some point during the summer. We have to look for the right moment as Eleven Sports is an unknown brand in the Italian market and we don’t want to frighten the current subscribers. We want to show them that we will only improve the offer and the quality, and then slowly they can start discovering the Eleven Sports brand.
“We have a huge focus on social and digital marketing at Eleven Sports. In 18 months’ time we have been able to build a fan base of around 500,000 fans [internationally]… so we will do a lot of social and digital marketing [in Italy].”
Announcing the acquisition of Sportube, Eleven Sports underlined that the platform received 4.3 million unique visitors during the 2015-16 season, an increase of 800,000 on the previous campaign.
• Eleven Sports has picked up the exclusive pay-TV rights in USA to motor racing’s World Rally Championship in a deal with the Sportsman Media Group agency.
Rights-holder WRC Promoter today announced the agreement with Eleven Sports, along with the awarding of digital rights to ESPN3, the online streaming service of the cable sports broadcaster.
Eleven Sports, which launched in the US market in March after buying the distribution assets of One World Sports, the troubled cable and satellite sports broadcaster, will show all remaining WRC rallies this season live.
Both Eleven and ESPN3 kicked off their WRC coverage at last month’s YPF Rally Argentina and coverage continues on 18 May at the Rally de Portugal.
WRC went without coverage in North America earlier this season as one-year deals with Fox Sports, the cable sports network, and MavTV, a cable and satellite channel owned by automotive lubricant company Lucas Oil, expired at the end of 2016.
Oliver Ciesla, managing director of WRC Promoter, told Sportcal in March that the promoter was in the market for a new broadcast partner in USA and Canada until the end of 2018, in line with its other international agreements.
On the US market, he remarked: “It's a very big market for us. We have four of the 10 biggest car manufacturers in the world running teams [Hyundai, Toyota, Citroen and Ford] and they are obviously all interested in getting exposure in the US. Also, if you look at the numbers of our digital fan base, USA is in the top 10."
Eleven Sports is also offering highlights and the WRC’s pre-event magazine programme, while ESPN3 will show highlights and the mid- and end-of-season review programmes.