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Shall we go Dutch? Belgian Pro League Clubs Mull Over Merger with Dutch Eredivisie

Last year, Sports Shorts reported on proposals for a combined Dutch and Belgian football league – a so-called ‘BeneLiga’. Talks of a merger appear to be gathering pace in the early part of this year, with Inside World Football reporting that a meeting recently took place between the Belgian and Dutch footballing authorities, alongside eleven clubs from across the Belgian Pro League and the Dutch Eredivisie. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the clubs in question are traditionally the most successful and best supported teams across the two leagues, with Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, Club Brugge, RC Genk, AA Gent, Standard Liege, AZ Alkmaar, FC Utrecht, Anderlecht and Vitesse Arnhem all reported to be in attendance.

As talks progress, further details are emerging about the likely structure of the Beneliga and the revenues that it could generate. According to Dutch newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad (article in Dutch), the new league would likely be comprised of ten Dutch teams and eight Belgian teams, with the continuation of a promotion/relegation format. Precisely how the initial constituent teams would be decided is still unclear. The most obvious means of determining this would be on the basis of teams’ league positions in the Pro League and the Eredivisie in the season prior to the inaugural Beneliga campaign. However, teams like Anderlecht may be concerned by such a mechanism, given that they are currently languishing in ninth place in the Pro League. A poor season immediately prior to the launch of the Beneliga could cost the biggest teams dearly. Algemeen Dagblad (article in Dutch) suggests that the ‘big eleven’ teams from the two countries would expect a guarantee that they will compete in the first edition of a Beneliga, with the remaining seven places being determined on the basis of league position. It will be interesting to see the chosen mechanism, if/when the league is formed.

In terms of broadcasting revenue, one study suggests that the combined league would bring in between €250 million and €400 million per year from television rights deals. This would represent a marked increase on the broadcasting revenues generated by the two leagues at present (approximately €80 million per league, per year). Bart Verhaeghe, the president of Club Brugge, certainly seems keen on the idea of a merger, suggesting that a combined competition could “tap into a market of 28 million people.” Mr Verhaeghe likely sees opportunities to increase Club Brugge’s commercial revenue as a result of the greater exposure the Beneliga would generate.

While talks of a merger do appear to have real momentum, it is unlikely that a combined league will be launched imminently, with the Belgian Pro League currently negotiating a broadcasting rights deal, which is due to run until the end of the 2024/25 season. At present, there are still many unknowns to be determined and key stakeholders that have not yet been part of the discussions will need to give their assent to the format of the Beneliga and the proposed distribution of revenues, amongst other matters.

© Copyright 2020 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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About this Author

Chris Stevens-Smith, Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm, London, Intellectual Property Law Attorney
Associate

Chris is an associate in the Intellectual Property & Technology Practice Group, based in London.

Chris has experience in a range of contentious and non-contentious commercial and intellectual property matters, advising clients in the media, entertainment, sports, gambling and advertising sectors.

Chris has undertaken secondments at a leading commercial broadcaster and at one of Britain’s largest retailers. 

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