Canal+ loses Ligue 1 football to Mediapro in major upset

In a major blow to pay TV leader Canal+ Spanish broadcasters and producer Mediapro has secured the bulk of the rights to French Ligue 1 football for the 2020-24 period.

The results of the auction of rights by French professional football league, the LFP, came as a surprise to observers. The LFP secured a record €1.15 billion per season from the auction despite Canal+ failing to secure a single package of rights and BeIN Media securing only one package.

Mediapro took no fewer than three of the seven packages on offer, including lots 1 and 2, comprising the top 10 matches and a choice of 28 further matches, and Friday evening and Saturday’s 17:00 matches respectively.

Mediapro has also secured Lot 4, including Sunday early afternoon matches and four matches from 15:00 on Sundays.

The Catalan group has committed to create a dedicated sports service for France to distribute its Ligue 1 rights.

The move follows a setback for Mediapro in Italy, where it secured rights to Serie A games earlier in the year, only to see the deal blocked after legal action by Sky. The Italian league has now voted to annul the agreement unless the broadcaster provides a guarantee of €1.2 billion to retain the rights.

Mediapro is also facing potential challenges from telecom operators to its grip on La Liga football rights in Spain.

In France, also joining the list of Ligue 1 rightsholders for the first time is Iliad Telecom/Free, which secured lot 6, comprising near-live highlights of all matches, along with magazine programme and video-on-demand rights.

The ISP said that it would offer the highlights package across its fixed and mobile networks, as well as broadcasting the match-day magazine show. The company spent €50 million to secure the package.

BeIN Sport has held on to lot 3, comprising 21:00 Saturday evening matches and matches on Sundays at 17:00. However, with only two matches a week to offer to subscribers, it may struggle to sustain its business model.

Absent from the bidding was Altice France, which has invested heavily in Champions League and Europa League rights to build up its TV offering. CEO Alain Weill indicated at the end of April that the group was unlikely to participate in the auction and said that Altice’s RMC Sport channel was working well without top-tier French football.

For its part, Canal+ said that it would look at the possibility of sub-licensing the rights from 2020, as is permitted by the terms of the auction. It said it would also explore the option of forming partnerships with the rights-holders on the model of the deals it already has in place with BeIN Sports and Eurosport.

The prospect of a sub-licensing arrangement notwithstanding, the auction result is a massive blow for the pay TV operator, which has struggled to arrest a decline in its domestic subscriber base, but has seen some improvement in the rate of loss in recent quarters.

Canal+ CEO Maxime Saada has said that the operator was not prepared to overpay for the rights and had made a bid that matched what its customers were prepared to pay.

The LFP can rest satisfied with an auction that saw its take increase by 60% – with two packages still unallocated – and attributed its success to investment by the clubs in delivering a quality experience.

The league said that the auction had enabled it to partially catch up with other European domestic leagues that have hitherto outperformed it in terms of securing TV revenues.

Lot 5, which includes the champions’ trophy and a number of other matches, and lot 7, a minor package comprising weekly magazine shows, have not been allocated.

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