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Mediapro outlines plans in wake of French football coup

Folllowing its surprise win of rights to top-tier French football earlier this week, Spanish broadcaster Mediapro has outlined plans to launch a dedicated football channel and has stated that it is open to striking deals with third-party operators, including current rightsholder Canal+.

The French professional football league (LFP) secured a record €1.15 billion per season for its key rights, with Mediapro taking 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. The Catalan-based broadcaster and producere also secured Lot 4, including Sunday early afternoon matches and four matches from 15:00 on Sundays.

Mediapro president Jaume Roures yesterday told journalists in Paris that his goal was to build a channel to be sold at a price that could attract an audience base of around five million subscribers within two years. With three million subscribers, he added, it could be possible to set a price of around €25 a month, taking into account estimated production costs of between €12 million and €15 million per season.

Roures said that he hoped former rightsholder Canal+ will carry the channel Mediapro plans to launch in France for Ligue 1 and added that there is no reason for subscribers to abandon the platform.

He said he planned to hold talks with all French operators and intimated that one possibility would be to come to some sort of reciprocal arrangement with Altice France/SFR, which holds the rights to Champions League football but which did not participate in the Ligue 1 auction.

Roures also indicated that Mediapro has not given up on its attempt to become a key player in Italian Serie A football. Italy’s football league this week agreed to annul its award of Serie A rights to Spanish broadcaster Mediapro after it said the latter had failed to provide necessary guarantees.

At the press conference, Roures said that the case in Italy is not yet closed, pointing out that the group has until June 7 to make a financial guarantee. He also indicated that Mediapro may look to seek to expand its portfolio of rights with other football leagues.

French industry observers have expressed doubt about how easy it will be for Mediapro to secure a return on its investment, pointing to the fact that BeIN Sport France is still not profitable after holding rights to French football for a number of years.

Following the initial announcement from the LFP, Canal+ CEO Maxime Saada was quick to express doubts about whether Mediapro will be able to recoup its investment – a spend that Saada believes does not make sense, even though Ligue 1 has long been considered underpriced relative to its European peers.

Saada indicated that he was interested in sub-licensing the rights. In a letter to employees on Wednesday – and ahead of Mediapro’s press conference yesterday ­­– he said that to “overpay for sports rights in the face of all economic logic is not a viable solution” but noted that the LFP auction “authorises, for the first time, the awardees to cede all or part of their rights, and thus opens the possibility for Canal+ to win them back indirectly”.

The loss of football rights has also raised concerns about the sustainability of the current financial model of France’s cinema industry, which is subsidised to a significant extent by the pay TV operator.

Following the announcement from the LFP, culture minister Françcoise Nyssen said that a viable economic model for Canal+ was viatal for financing the country’s film business and audiovisual content creation in general.

Canal+ CEO Saada has also attempted to offer reassurance on this front, arguing that none of the pay TV operator’s customers took the service for football alone, and many only watch a match occasionally. He said that cinema and series were at the core of the operator’s offering.