TV rights: French football close to bankruptcy?

12 June 2024 / Thibaud Vézirian

EDITORIAL – What if French football went bankrupt? While no decision has yet been made concerning the TV rights for the next Ligue 1 season, several club managers are starting to seriously worry about their finances.

Laurent Nicollin bangs his fist on the table. He can't take it anymore. Support from Vincent Labrune, president of the Professional Football League (LFP), having inherited French football in a catastrophic financial situation, the president of Montpellier Hérault is angry with Canal+.

In an interview for the newspaper The Team, Laurent Nicollin points the finger at the encrypted channel Canal+, guilty in his eyes of not helping French football. French football in which some clubs base their budget 60% on TV rights… Thousands of employees therefore live on TV rights.

Problem, Canal+ did not appreciate that during the last call for tenders, the channel only recovered 2 matches for 332 million euros (via a transfer of rights from BeIn Sports) while Amazon Prime Video will recover (via the bankruptcy of MediaPro-Telefoot channel) 8 matches for 250 million euros. A colossal gap, a huge disadvantage for C+. His boss Maxime Saada does not have a short memory.

After unsuccessful exchanges with DaZN (pronounced DaZone), Bein Sports or Amazon in 2023, can the LFP afford to wait much longer? The resumption of the championship is set for August 17, the transfer window has been open since Monday and the DNCG (the financial policeman) has postponed many annual meetings with the clubs.

Should we wait for foreign investors to finally reveal themselves on the side of Olympique de Marseille to create a breath of fresh air for all French clubs? And revive the attractiveness of the championship. They would then be saviors in two ways.

Vincent Labrun spoke of a total amount of one billion euros for domestic and international TV rights in 2023, we are currently on an estimate of 500 million euros for national rights and 150 million euros for rights to the foreigner. 650 million euros, far from the billion… But again, no channel, nor the GAFA (Google-Amazon-Facebook-Apple) validates this deal!

The LFP thus leaked to the media a possibility of creating a Ligue 1 channel, launched by the League. A totally crazy plan B since to achieve profitability, this channel would have to quickly obtain 4 million subscribers, something totally unachievable. Even more so with a subscription of 25 euros per month… Incomprehensible. IPTV sellers are already enjoying it.

So Laurent Nicollin accuses Canal+ of refusing to negotiate for “ kill French football ". Canal+, however, has little interest in this since the channel broadcasts the European Cups. Without a French club at the level in these competitions, the audiences are catastrophic. “ In life, when we feel wronged by something, we make appointments, we talk with people », continues Laurent Nicollin in The Team.

Damien Comolli, president of the Toulouse Football Club (TFC), agrees: “ I don't understand how we can spend hundreds of millions on the European Cups and not give French clubs the means. ».

Even more worrying, if the LFP validates a deal around 500 million euros (only) in national rights, the clubs would lose around 30% of revenue compared to last season! With the CVC agreement which allows this investment fund to recover from next season part of the sums invested to help French clubs for two years, it would therefore be a net loss for the clubs. We will have to be much more creative than before during the transfer window.

« Ithere will perhaps be five or six clubs which will go bankrupt. They will be happy. They will put on rugby on Sunday evening. If I'm missing 20 million TV rights... The big clubs will stay. At one point, they wanted a Championship of 10 or 12 clubs. They will », predicts Laurent Nicollin with pessimism but lucidity.

No valid exit door seems visible at present. Even less with Emmanuel Macron very caught up in the current political mess. However, the President of the Republic is often concerned about the survival of French football.

Another businessman could have been the savior. But we should not yet count on the entry into play of Altice Média, of which Rodolphe Saadé (CMA-CGM) is still awaiting validation of the takeover by the competition authority. Too good timing, it seems, to embark on the acquisition of TV rights for BFM-RMC. Who wants to save French football, please?