French Football : Interview Off the Pitch

Last year's termination of cash strapped Mediapro's broadcasting deal with the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) continues to act as a snowball effect on the country's top two leagues.

That has most recently been highlighted by the failure to auction off four lots of television rights for the 2021-24 seasons, lots that were returned after the Chinese-owned firm stopped paying for the TV rights under its record €830 million a year deal.

"They've been moving too fast. I understand there are big cash issues, but the situation has not been cleared and the context for the league to launch a new tender is not favourable," says Arnaud Simon, a former Discovery sports senior vice-president and Eurosport France CEO who founded content advisory In&OutStories.

Canal+, the main broadcaster of French football for decades before Mediapro entered the market in 2018, also wanted a price reduction on its agreement. But the league refused to budge. So Canal+ sued, with a court hearing expected on 19th February.

"Launching a tender in two weeks with the legal situation not cleared and trying to convince newcomers to enter the market is very difficult. It's never a good idea to do things in panic," Simon says.

And while the LFP on Monday did receive bids from Amazon, Discovery and DAZN for the rights to the four packages it is trying to salvage, none of the offers reached the reserve prices it had set out to achieve.

"Clearly clubs are putting pressure on the league, but it risks going too fast and wasting an opportunity to save what can be saved. I've never seen this before, a tender in the middle of the season for such a premium property," Simon says.

Rumours recently started emerging of the French government stepping in to rescue the industry, but few give them any credence. Whether that has become more likely or not with recent developments remains unclear but as in other countries the popularity of giving financial aid to football would be questionable to say the least.

"The French government has made it very clear it is not their duty to help football," says sports rights expert and media content consultant Pierre Maes.

Simon agrees, pointing to the fact that a minister earlier used the word "stupid" to describe the league's decision making.

"A rescue package would be highly unpopular, the government doesn't want to invest public money in bad decisions," he says.

Following the failure to auction off its rights packages the LFP again stands in a situation where it is impossible to predict what happens next. Simon, describing the situation as "anticipated failure," however, sees positives in the fact that it managed to attract the interest of Amazon, DAZN and even Discovery.

"They could see a unique opportunity to get matches for a low price. But I'm not sure they will be able to follow up, so here we go again," he says.

The league now has two options to either launch a second round – which Simon believes is unlikely – or start one on one conversations with not only the three bidders but also beIN Sports and Canal+ who has earlier expressed being willing to pay the €590 million a year contract it paid up until this season.

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