It is a scene that takes on its full meaning today. In 2018, just before the call for tenders which was to result in the nebulous billion promised by Mediapro, the leaders of Canal + had participated in a meeting at the Clifford Chance cabinet, partner of the Professional Football League (LFP) during its consultations for TV rights. On that day, with supporting diagrams and expert report, Maxime Saada, the chairman of the executive board of the encrypted channel, decreed that the French Championship is not worth more than 750 million euros. That is the price paid by broadcasters for the period 2016-2020. For him, Ligue 1 did not take a euro. The leaders of the LFP are dumbfounded. A few days later, French football nevertheless won the cup with more than a billion for its TV rights (1.153 billion euros exactly). The presidents of Ligue 1 show off. “A blessed day”, said Jean-Michel Aulas, the boss of the Olympique Lyonnais.
Tensions started in 2016
Two and a half years later, Canal + has its revenge. The pay channel which had not obtained any prize in 2018 has just recovered all the rights to the championship until the end of the season. Professional clubs will receive a total of 688 million euros, less than what Maxime Saada expected. This Friday morning, the boss of Canal + had the triumph more modest than the club presidents in their time. “There was a breach of trust with the League and some presidents, but water flowed under the bridges, we purged the subjects, explained the leader on RTL. We are in a process of reconstruction. Vincent Labrune (Editor’s note: the president of the LFP since September 2020) played a decisive role. There were difficult times like in any relationship, you rebuild trust. It’s a new start. We have no interest in French football going badly, and that the system collapses. “
By saying this, the businessman becomes a guarantor of the sustainability of professional football. And he is not wrong. In recent months, after the Mediapro fiasco and the failure of the Sino-Spanish operator, the encrypted channel has emerged as the only broadcaster capable of pulling French football out of the rut and announced economic bankruptcy. US operators, such as Amazon or Discovery, responded well to the last consultation. But they offered neither the visibility nor the amounts necessary to relaunch a Ligue 1 product with the image degraded by the Mediapro imbroglio and the Covid pandemic.
Only the historic broadcaster had the financial strength and the know-how to restore a badly broken championship. Canal + could also have responded for several weeks to calls from the foot of the League wishing to contract by mutual agreement. But beyond the divergences in legal analysis – those responsible for the chain believe that the LFP must go through a global call for tenders to sell its rights – the liabilities of recent years have weighed heavily.
For a little over four years, the body that manages pro football and the encrypted channel have had a problem with different subjects that are not limited to the consultation lost in 2018 by Canal +. These tensions began in 2016 when the encrypted channel demanded that the Sunday night game be postponed to 9 p.m., while it was scheduled for 8:45 p.m. in the rights consultation for the period 2016-2020. But the acme of this thwarted relationship is at the time of the yellow vests crisis in 2018 and 2019, with last-minute game deprograms that have ended up irritating the officials of the audiovisual entity.
“Renewing friendly and professional ties”
It is also tasty to imagine today that Canal + will settle a little more than 200 million euros, but still claims 46 million from the League before the commercial court of Paris for the call for tenders that ‘he considers partial and anti-competitive. A sum that French football could have to pay for all or part if the justice proves it wrong in this dispute. True to his line of conduct, Maxime Saada still calls for a global call for tenders for the remaining three years (2021 to 2024) of unallocated TV rights. “We are ready and we will be there”, specifies the strong man of Canal +. The encrypted channel which has resisted other new entrants in the past (TPS, Orange, BeIN Sports) knows that it is in a strong position.
For his part, Vincent Labrune has been able to renew the link. But the president of the League is aware that he enjoys a very limited room for maneuver, even if he has offered himself a little time for reflection with this transitional agreement. “Logic is a long-term call for tenders,” Noël Le Graët, president of the French Federation, told us this Friday. Canal + is a long-standing partner, we started football thanks to them. At the time, I was young manager of amateur football at the League, and when Canal came to see us to broadcast matches, Jean Sadoul, then president, told them: I have no money to give you. Times have changed a lot, but it is in our interest to renew friendly and professional ties with them. “
Article original de: www.leparisien.fr