“There were doubts from the start about the financial strength of Mediapro”

Mediapro produces and broadcasts eight of the ten Ligue 1 matches per day, as here at the Parc des Princes before the PSG-Marseille meeting, on September 13, 2020

Mediapro, the main broadcaster of French football, is shaking the ecosystem of Ligue 1 by asking to renegotiate the juicy TV rights (780 million euros per year, plus 34 million for Ligue 2). Firm, the Professional Football League (LFP) said in a press release, Thursday, October 8, to refuse to grant a delay in payment to the group chaired by Jaume Roures, which claims time to meet the deadline of 172 million. euros to be paid on October 6.

International consultant in sports television rights, Pierre Maes is the author of the book The Football TV Rights Business (FYP, 2019). Critic of the project of the Sino-Spanish group, he recalls that the latter did not initially intend to create a channel (since called “Téléfoot the football channel”).

How do you interpret the will of the president of Mediapro, Jaume Roures, to ask to renegotiate the contract binding him to the League?

As early as 2018 and the call for tenders, so before the Covid-19, I had doubts about the financial strength of Mediapro and the League’s “deal”. What is happening today is a fairly logical outcome. For people who know the football business, Mediapro is first and foremost an agency. And an agency buys and sells rights while taking, if possible, a capital gain in the process. This was Mediapro’s primary intention, even if its president, Jaume Roures, denied it. Between the call for tenders and the start of broadcasting this season, Mediapro had two years to resell its rights and achieve a good deal. This explains why the group was so slow to create their channel. But he ended up doing it because he couldn’t find buyers.

However, Mediapro distributes Téléfoot to the main access providers (ISPs) such as Free, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Orange. It should have given him some visibility …

Yes, but it failed with Canal +, which remains very powerful in the sports landscape. And concerning these agreements with ISPs, we do not know whether Mediapro has obtained guaranteed minimums so that Free or Orange, for example, can offer Téléfoot to their customers. When SFR acquired the rights to the Champions League, the other ISPs refused to pay these guaranteed minimums to broadcast RMC Sport. They had not given in, considering the price too high.

In the case that interests us, it is said that Mediapro would have ended up giving up these minimums. There was great pressure from the French football world to broaden the dissemination of Ligue 1. There, it is almost general – except Canal + -, but with greater financial risks for Mediapro.

By choosing Mediapro, the LFP and club presidents have opted for the best bidder, even if it means having less exposure than on Canal + or BeIN Sports…

In all calls for tenders, in France and abroad, the debate between income and exposure has always turned short and in favor of income. The best example is that of the Champions League television rights. Until ten years ago, the European Cup was mainly broadcast on free channels, this is no longer the case today. It is not a French specificity.

This did not prevent some concerns from the side of the presidents. Shortly after the call for tenders, Bernard Caïazzo, the president of Saint-Etienne and the Premier League [syndicat réunissant les principaux clubs de L1], was concerned about the financial strength of Mediapro. He had been called to order, but it showed that there was some doubt from the start.

Read also: “The health crisis has destroyed the fragile edifice of the football economy”

James Roure evokes the health crisis to justify his desire to renegotiate. Is this an admissible argument?

Many football players doubted the goal of 3.5 million subscribers, the break-even point set by Roures. The Covid-19 has not changed anything. It is very difficult to recruit and keep a subscriber. The customer portfolio is already very busy with various subscription offers and there is above all piracy, the extent of which is still poorly understood, but which is a major factor.

What would happen in the event of default?

One can imagine football in panic in the event of Mediapro defaulting on payment, and a new call for tenders in disaster. Canal + could then come back in force. From the moment the Canal + group has not signed a distribution agreement for Téléfoot, it is because it expects and hopes that Mediapro will sink. And for them, it’s happening sooner than expected.

It should be added that Mediapro has signed an agreement with Altice to co-broadcast the Champions League until the round of 16, with the idea of ​​boosting its subscriptions with a very attractive product. But this agreement only runs for this season, before the European Cup returns to Canal + and BeIN Sports from next season.

Read also Football: is Ligue 1 a house of cards?


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