The sky darkens over French football. Canal + will not give a freebie for TV rights: the channel on Tuesday asked for a new call for tenders for all Ligue 1 matches, posing the threat of an even more drastic reduction in clubs’ television revenues.
Believing that “Ligue 1 has lost a lot of value” with the Covid-19 crisis and the withdrawal of the major broadcaster Mediapro negotiated in December, Canal + boss Maxime Saada announced in an interview with Figaro that the encrypted channel intended to return to the Professional Football League (LFP) its share of matches (20% of L1), wishing to see all of the matches put back on sale via a new call for tenders.
“We finally came to the conclusion on the Canal + side that it was in the interest of all stakeholders to go through a call for tenders,” Maxime Saada said on a daily basis, while according to several sources familiar with the matter, the League favored a reallocation via a mutual agreement agreement between the two parties.
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Canal + currently broadcasts 20% of Ligue 1 matches, via a sub-license signed with beIN Sports for an annual amount of 330 million euros. The remaining 80% are still broadcast on Téléfoot, the channel of the Sino-Spanish group Mediapro, even though the latter negotiated its withdrawal with the League in December.
Initially, the contract for the broadcasting of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 for the 2020-24 cycle had broken records, reaching the annual amount of 1.217 billion euros, of which more than 800 for the only group Mediapro, newcomer on the French market.
But since September, Mediapro wanted to renegotiate its contract downwards and ended up agreeing to withdraw from the market for compensation of 100 million euros, against the promise not to be sued.
Canal + has always insisted, since the 2018 call for tenders, that Ligue 1 had been overestimated by Mediapro. In October, Maxime Saada had already indicated that the channel would refuse to “reinvest at a loss in football”. On Tuesday, the leader also insisted on Figaro on the fact that Canal has “not been treated correctly in recent years” by French football, between the call for tenders and the postponements of matches because of the demonstrations of “yellow vests” for example.
For the Vivendi group chain, the call for tenders is a risk: by returning its lots, it runs the risk of leaving empty-handed of the future allocation. But in the opinion of all observers, few other broadcasters (RMC Sport? Amazon? The DAZN platform?) Seem able to invest a lot of money in French football.
A “match” payment?
In addition, Canal + has an agreement with its former competitor beIN Sports, and several sources close to the negotiations questioned in recent days saw them act together on the matter.
For the LFP, which had not reacted in the evening Tuesday, the call for tenders suggests a drastic reduction in the TV rights of Ligue 1, because it brings into play not only all the lots of Mediapro (more than 800 million euros), but also that of Canal + (330 million euros for two matches per day) which could also be negotiated downwards. Maxime Saada has also insisted on the fact that the price of Canal for this lot was also “artificially soared”.
Above all, this situation poses the threat of the “black screen”, namely meetings not broadcast. According to the release agreement negotiated in December between Mediapro and the League, the Téléfoot channel was only supposed to broadcast until January 31 if no new broadcaster was found. Nevertheless, according to several sources familiar with the matter, Téléfoot is ready to play extra time via a new agreement with the League. Currently, the chain also offers daily or weekly offers.
A similar alternative solution is also proposed by Maxime Saada: Canal + says it is ready to broadcast the matches in “pay per view”, a fee-for-service payment, pending the resolution of this possible new call for tenders.
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