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Blow for Ligue 1 as French pay TV giant pulls out of rights auction

The French league’s ambitious aim of selling the television rights to Ligue 1 for one billion euros per year received a blow on Monday when the competition’s longest-standing broadcast partner ruled itself out of the upcoming bidding process.

The president of French pay TV giant Canal Plus said in a letter obtained by sports daily L’Equipe that “the requirements for Canal Plus to make an offer have not been met”.

The French league (LFP) is putting its domestic broadcast rights for the five years from 2024 out to tender and is hoping to bring in 800 million euros ($850m) a season on the French market for its two separate packages.

Yet, in his letter, Canal Plus president Maxime Saada wrote that he was convinced the LFP’s “only objective was to remove Canal Plus and favour Amazon” in the bidding process.

The relationship between Canal Plus and French football is similar to that between Sky Sports and the English Premier League in the UK.

While Sky Sports has been broadcasting the Premier League since the competition began in 1992, Canal Plus has been showing top-flight football in France since the pay TV service launched in 1984.

However, the broadcaster has been in conflict with the LFP since 2020 and the collapse of a record deal with Spanish company Mediapro.

The LFP had sold the bulk of its domestic rights to Mediapro for 780 million euros a year for the four years to 2024, with Canal Plus paying 332 million euros for the remaining rights to two matches per weekend.

But the LFP cancelled its deal with Mediapro in late 2020 after the company failed to meet a payment deadline.

Those rights, to eight games per weekend, were sold in something of a panic to Amazon Prime Video for just 250 million euros a year.

Meanwhile, Canal Plus was left having to pay the amount it had initially agreed to, with attempts to renegotiate its contract failing.

Pierre Maes, a consultant on sports broadcasting rights in France, told AFP that the pay TV giant’s decision was “not a surprise”.

He added that the league’s stance of requesting a total of 800 million euros a year domestically was “extremely risky”.

“Canal Plus are not saying they are not interested. They are just saying they will not participate in the bidding process at that price,” he said.

As well as its domestic asking price, the LFP is also hoping to bring in increased revenues for the sale of international rights to bring the total for its rights up to one billion euros.

The sale of its international rights currently bring in a reported 80 million euros a year, a modest sum compared to other leading European leagues.

The mega-rich Premier League’s current three-year cycle for broadcast rights, from 2022 to 2025, was sold for more than £10 billion ($12.2 billion), with international rights outstripping the figure for the domestic market for the first time.

And this bidding process comes at a delicate time for French football, given the recent departures of superstars Lionel Messi and Neymar from champions Paris Saint-Germain and the uncertainty over the long-term future of Kylian Mbappe at the Qatar-backed club. 

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