Four months ago, multinational media company Eleven Sports entered the UK with hopes of penetrating one of the world’s most competitive markets.
Four months later, they might be leaving.
According to the New York Times, the company, which is a group of sports television channels owned by Andrea Radrizzani, tore through millions of dollars in order to outbid rivals for European soccer broadcasting rights. However, they’ve been unable to figure out distribution deals with Britain’s major media players, forcing Eleven to push all of its content online where it’s available via subscription. That’s something that didn’t sit well with many fans who were used to watching games on TV for decades and didn’t want to pay £5.99 a month or £49.99 a year to do so now.
While the company has earned a reputation as the “Netflix of sports” in the UK, Radrizzani told the Times he doesn’t see that as a viable business model given how much the company has invested in La Liga and Serie A media rights. Turns out, jumping right to the top of the heap instead of working your way up can have some drawbacks, especially in the world of big media. Outbidding Britain’s two largest sports broadcasters (Sky and BT) for the rights might have felt satisfying, but it’s left the newcomer to fend for themselves in negotiations with British television companies who hold many of the cards.
“He’s the latest guy in a long line to overestimate his model,” News UK CEO Mike Darcey told the Times. “Everyone thinks it’s easy until you try to make money.”
Radrizzani is reportedly now trying to renegotiate Eleven Sports’ contracts with the Italian and Spanish leagues. If he’s unable to, he says that his business model is untenable as-is and it could hasten the company’s retreat from the market.
His reputation certainly couldn’t have helped matters in negotiations. Radrizzani was the owner of Leeds United when he led the charge to back out of a deal Sky had made with the three non-Premier League divisions. He also ignored a long-standing understanding that British broadcasters not screen live games on Saturday afternoon by broadcasting La Liga games before agreeing to stop.
Soccer rights aren’t Eleven’s only headache either. The Ultimate Fighting Championship recently backed out of an agreement with the network because Eleven was unable to secure a pay-TV distribution contract.
Whatever happens in the UK, Eleven Sports continues to own distribution rights in various countries all over the world that aren’t quite the mess. They own Polish rights to Formula One, Taiwanese rights to the EPL, and various sports rights in Italy,Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Singapore. They also run Eleven Sports Network in the United States which focuses on international sports. Earlier this year, they got exclusive rights to broadcast 120 NBA G League games as well.