TV rights: “I do not believe that Mediapro cannot pay”, estimates Jean-Michel Aulas


French professional football has been on alert for a week and the decision of Mediapro, the main broadcaster of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 for the period 2020-2024, not to pay its second TV rights deal (172 million euros) on October 5. The broadcaster wants to renegotiate the price (814 million euros annually for four years). The emblematic president of Lyon since 1987, Jean-Michel Aulas, exclusively gives us his thoughts on this exceptional situation. Far from being pessimistic, he already sees him further …

Were you surprised by this non-payment of the second installment of TV rights by Mediapro?

JEAN-MICHEL AULAS. Yes. Mediapro asked clubs a few days ago to do their utmost to present an extremely selling product. The clubs have played the game. This reaction is disproportionate. This hides something else. Everything was miraculous, beautiful, and a month later we arrive at this situation… What justifies this change of attitude? There is something else we don’t know, at least not me!

When you say that “it’s hiding something else”, is that a feeling or information?

It’s a feeling, a logical analysis. When you have a financial problem, it doesn’t happen overnight. Mediapro’s situation has not deteriorated in six weeks. This change of attitude leaves me to think that there is something else …

In 2018, the Italian League had rejected Mediapro’s offer, for lack of solid payment guarantees, and in particular the lack of a bank guarantee. The LFP has validated the offer without bank guarantees. Is it a mistake ?

It might not have been a mistake at the time. But what is happening today shows a very significant weakness in the system. Lined with a second weakness, and perhaps a fault. UEFA, for example, charges a “deposit” (Editor’s note: a deposit) from 5 to 10% on all contracts. When you have a contract of over 800 million euros over four years, that’s 3.2 billion, if you have 10% deposit, it allows you to see the first six months coming. The fact of not having either bank guarantees, or “deposit”, that becomes a flagrant weakness, even a tragedy for French football.

And now what are you advocating? Renegotiate? Break the contract? Ask the Chinese majority shareholder for money? Necessarily negotiate at a discount with other groups?

You have to have an extremely firm attitude. I know Vincent Labrune (Editor’s note: the new president of the LFP) has that idea. We are within our rights. Football can seem cheated. It is not in Mediapro’s interest to violate very strict TV rights tendering regulations. I did not participate very closely in this call for tenders, I had participated in all the previous ones, but I was reminded of this one at the end … The rule is that when you are in failure to pay, you lose ownership of the rights. They themselves dig their graves.

Vincent Labrune and Jean-Michel Aulas in 2015, when they respectively chaired OM and OL. LP / Guillaume Georges

You yourself were convinced by Mediapro. Do you feel cheated today, even betrayed?

I am very uncomfortable. It happened too quickly for it to be just a Mediapro credit issue. You have to be calm in this case. It is the one who is the most serene who will find the best solution. I don’t believe Mediapro cannot pay. Mediapro has a Chinese shareholder, a very powerful, important and serious state fund in the Shanghai region.

Do you trust Vincent Labrune, whom you did not support at the start, to resolve this crisis?

I did not support him for one reason only, because he was not a candidate. I learned of his candidacy at 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I was not against Labrune. We call each other regularly, he does a good job. And TV rights are a subject he knows perfectly well. I have complete confidence in Vincent. I have a lot of respect for him.

Should the state intervene in this affair?

Vincent Labrune, in conjunction with Noël Le Graët at the FFF, have the capacity to conduct negotiations, of course with the support of the State but without relinquishing the case.

So the goal is to bring Mediapro back to the negotiating table?

They have to pay, and if they don’t pay, there will be negotiations with others.

Could Canal + or BeIN save the furniture?

They obviously have a say, but I think it is more towards other operators that the League will turn. Times are changing, we are no longer only selling exclusive TV rights, but also mass sales. Free is installed. Amazon has acquired rights in England and Germany. UEFA is also in talks with Alibaba. GAFAs can come into the game or large global distribution companies, like Netflix, which have the capabilities to reach large audiences. They will change the rules. But you have to find a much lower price. The idea I want to defend is that you need a Spotify for football or a Deezer for football, you need a unique offer with an attractive price and that the public no longer has to wonder on which channel is the match.

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On Monday, you came before the Council of State concerning the losses linked to the stoppage of the last championship. What do you expect from it?

We had requested the resumption of the championship in summary proceedings on June 9. This procedure at the Council of State, it arrives to demonstrate that we were right. It is also, for the Council of State, to determine who stopped the championship. The Council of State, in the summary of June 9, had said that it was the League. We want people to tell us if it’s the League or if it’s the State. And the second point, did the League not rush into its decision? If the responsibility is with the League and if we are told that we should not rush, then we will turn to the person in charge. The losses for OL are over 110 million euros.

Where are your relations with the leaders of PSG in this period?

I tried to renew bonds of trust with the leaders of PSG during the epidemic. Nasser’s responses (Editor’s note: Al-Khelaïfi, the president of the Parisian club) have often been positive. He is permanently engaged in this crisis. He has always been in the fire. I hope that in the future we will be even closer to try to bring French football to the top.

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