Mediapro against Canal +: the battle for French football TV rights in three acts

It is a file that seems endless. The major broadcaster of Ligue 1, Mediapro, continues his standoff with the LFP, but also Canal + in a three-way ballet about the television rights of French football. In the latest episode, the Catalan audiovisual group sued its French competitor. How did the broadcast of the French football championship generate such a conflict? Summary in three acts.

  • At the start of the season, Mediapro asks to review its contract downwards

Crossing the milestone of one billion euros in annual TV rights was the avowed objective of the L1 to catch up with its European neighbors. An old chimera suddenly materialized: in May 2018, with a proposal worth more than 800 million, the new entrant Mediapro won the main lots of the call for re-allocation of tenders (for 1.2 billion euros collected in total) . And French football opens the champagne … without having really controlled the financial guarantees of the Sino-Spanish group.

The horizon has darkened markedly in recent months for the Spanish group with Chinese capital. Mediapro was already suffering from a debt of 727 million euros at the end of 2019, and the financial rating agency Moody’s downgraded the rating of the holding company that owns the group, Joye Media, at the end of April to B3 against B1 previously. This corresponds to a “high risk” of non-repayment or delay in loan repayments.

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Mediapro “has financial problems, for sure. And these are big problems, because the volume (of sports rights) that they have started to manage is enormous”, was alarmed in mid-October Joan Celma, professor of management of sports companies. “They had eyes bigger than their stomachs,” he says.

Because after having paid its first payment to the League in August, Mediapro refuses to pay the 172 million euros expected in October, demanding to review the terms of the contract downwards due to the crisis following the Covid-19 pandemic .

  • Conciliation process, while Canal + takes its place

In the short term, Mediapro has placed itself under the protection of the Nanterre commercial court, which allows it to freeze its payments. The League and the broadcaster have been engaged since October 19 in a conciliation process – arbitrated by a judicial representative, Marc Sénéchal – the objective being to reach a solution as quickly as possible, while December 5, the date of the next payment due by the Catalan company, approach.

And if the outcome of this conciliation remains uncertain, the position of Canal + is scrutinized from all sides. The historic broadcaster of the French championship has indeed the favor of many club leaders. Until now, Mediapro had not managed to find an agreement with the encrypted channel, the other broadcaster of the L1, neither for a sub-license of certain matches, nor for the distribution of its Téléfoot channel by the platforms. of Canal +.

But at the end of October, Mediapro announced a figure of 600,000 subscribers for its channel, a far cry from the 3.5 million that the group ultimately aims to make its project profitable, which places it all the more against the wall. Jean-Michel Aulas, the president of Olympique Lyonnais, invites us to think about a solution “simplified” and “around the Canal”, while Waldemar Kita (FC Nantes) and Jean-Pierre Caillot (Stade de Reims) say, on RMC, in favor of a return to the forefront of Canal in the event that Mediapro were to “default” and would precipitate a new call for tenders.

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But the Vivendi group channel, already holding the rights to two matches per day of the championship for 330 million euros per season, will not necessarily need a new call for tenders to stand out. Indeed, it is well affected by the negotiations which are currently taking place within the framework of the current conciliation with the commercial court of Nanterre, we learned from a source close to the file.

According to the daily The team, a potential envelope of 700 million euros per year for all Ligue 1 matches would have been mentioned by the broadcaster, an additional 370 million euros in addition to what Canal already pays. But faced with the annual 1.153 billion initially obtained by the League during its call for tenders in 2018, the gap is enough to cringe.

  • Canal + sued

Mediapro decides today to take Canal + to court, accusing it of trying to oust it from the French football TV rights market, we learned Thursday from a source with knowledge of the case. The Sino-Spanish group filed a summons last week with the Paris Commercial Court to ask its competitor for damages in the context of negotiations following the call for tenders for the period 2020-2024, a- we learned from the same source who requested anonymity.

Mediapro accuses Canal of “abuse of a dominant position” and “abusive and unfair practices”. The French group has not yet wished to comment. At the heart of the conflict, according to Mediapro, the impossibility of sealing any distribution agreement with the encrypted channel since the conclusion of the call for tenders. In this case, Canal + had already taken Mediapro to court in September, accusing the Catalan group with Chinese capital of “unequal treatment” compared to other distributors, in negotiations for the distribution of Téléfoot.

READ ALSO >> Football: “The boss of Mediapro knows he is in a strong position, he tries to take advantage of it”

It remains to be seen how far Canal + is prepared to go to recover these TV rights. Maxime Saada, the boss of the historic French football broadcaster, explained to Echoes on October 30 that “the arrival of Téléfoot practically did not make us lose subscribers during this return. “” We even recorded, for the first time in a long time, a growth of our subscriber base in France “, he had evacuated, indicating to have” reinvested a a large part of the sums initially spent on the Ligue 1 call for tenders, which was initially lost, in particular by buying back a batch of matches from beIN Sports.

“The Champions League will come back to us next season with, for the first time, the two most beautiful posters of each day. It will complete a rich sport offering (…) This strategy works and there is no question of to plunge Canal + into the red by reinvesting at a loss in football “, he concluded. Nor, perhaps, in endless legal disputes.

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