French football league stares down Mediapro in TV rights dispute

Paris (AFP) –


The French Football League on Thursday announced that it would not grant a delay in a TV rights payment after Mediapro said it wanted to renegotiate its bumper contract following a coronavirus-led downturn.

The LFP said that they had "refused" to postpone payment of a tranche due on October 5 reportedly worth 172 million euros, adding that it intends to distribute the TV money which makes up the bulk of clubs' revenues on October 17 as scheduled.

The LFP's move comes after Mediapro CEO Jaume Roures said he wanted to reopen talks on a deal between the Chinese-owned media company and the LFP worth 800 million euros a season to Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs.

Mediapro won the bulk of the 2020-2024 rights for the top two divisions (worth in total 1.15 billion euros) in 2018 and Roures says he wants to renegotiate the contract for this season, which he believes is "heavily affected by Covid-19".

Roures' plea will not have gone down well with the clubs, whose finances have already been battered by the pandemic, with a study carried out by consultancy firm EY saying that Ligue 1 clubs lost more than 600 million euros in turnover for the 2019/20 season, which was cut short in April.

This season has started with drastically reduced gate receipts as crowds are limited to 5,000 or even 1,000 people in places worst hit by the virus.

And French football's financial authorities say that TV rights counted for a third of revenue for Ligue 1 clubs in 2018/19, when broadcast revenues were significantly lower.

"On one hand you have someone who is threatening to not pay, on the other a league that has based its entire budget on the new rights. Inevitably these negotiations are going to be a bit fraught," football economist Luc Arrondel told AFP.

"If the money does not arrive ... what is likely to happen is that the clubs will not be able to pay their players," added Arrondel, who believes Mediapro are in a "strong position" to negotiate.

This is bad news for clubs who have already borrowed 224.5 million euros from the state to compensate for shortfall in TV rights following the premature ending of last season.

"Mediapro is basically an agency. Their model is to pay a high price for the rights in the hope of then selling them on at a profit ... they bet, they lost," consultant and author Pierre Maes told AFP.

Maes added that clubs had tied players to long, expensive contracts on the basis of Mediapro money, while the media company is facing up to a lukewarm reception to its TV channel Telefoot, which broadcasts the matches.

"For the moment, this is just a worrying sign, but in the event of failure, I think the clubs will be faced with Covid to the power of 10," said Maes.