SFR’s rivals react to Champions League blow

facade_campus_sfr_maxime_dufour__photographies_3French service provider SFR’s pay TV rivals have reacted with surprise to the award of exclusive Champions League and Europa League football rights to the Altice-owned operator, with BeIN Sports saying it has “concerns” about the way the deal was done.

Altice confirmed today that has secured the rights to broadcast the two tournaments exclusively across free-TV and payTV, mobile, internet and OTT and DTT in France, and non-exclusive rights in French in Luxembourg, Switzerland and Monaco.

BeIN Sports, which is likely to suffer the biggest negative impact from the loss of the rights, said that it had been informed of UEFA’s decision to award the exclusive rights to SFR  and that it was “disappointed and surprised by this decision”. It added that it “has concerns about this process”.

The Qatar-backed broadcaster said that it will continue to offer its three million subscribers Champions League and Europa League football until 2018, as well as other top-tier football from a number of national leagues in Europe including French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 football until 2020.

Speaking to analysts after the company reported its quarterly results, Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine said that Canal+ would retain Champions League rights to the end of 2018, and added that the loss of the 18 games it airs from the competition would not be a major threat to the appeal of its proposition.

De Puyfontaine compared Canal+’s situation to that of Sky in the UK, which doesn’t air Champions League football and is nevertheless “doing pretty well”.

De Puyfontaine also said that he did not “see any sustainable business model” for the price that SFR had paid for the competition, reported to be in the region of €350 million a year.

“The bigger risk for us would be paying a price that could jeopardise what we’ve done over the last 18 months, doing that to keep rights that, at the end of the day, would not make sense [or be] in the interests of the sustainability of Canal+’s pay TV business model [or] in the interest of value creation and the sustainability of pay TV in France,” he said.

De Puyfontaine declined to comment on some French press speculation that Canal+ could withdraw its service from being distributed by SFR.

SFR will show all 343 matches of the competitions, including the finals. Magazines and highlights packages will also be available on SFR channels.

The move is the latest in Altice’s aggressive campaign to build a strong presence in pay TV in France on the basis of sports rights. The group has rights to the English Premier League, Portuguese Football Championship, French Basketball and English Rugby, among others.

“We are very excited to have entered into this new and long-term partnership with UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, the world’s best football club competitions. Aquiring the rights to the UEFA Champions League and to UEFA Europa League is one of the main steps for Altice’s global and French strategy to provide the best exclusive content,” said Altice CEO Michel Combes.

“This move underlines Altice’s ambition to continue to invest in the most powerful programs that bring together the largest audiences. The convergence of our telecom assets with media, content and advertising is core to our long-term industrial and commercial project. We will continue to strive in each of our operations to offer our customers a unique experience and deliver them excellence everywhere.