SportBusiness International looks at the major sports events on the horizon for France, as well as its battlefield television broadcast industry.
Few could argue that France’s flexibility is tailor-made for hosting sport’s most memorable occasions.
The conclusion of cycling’s annual Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées in Paris is one of the most iconic images in sport.
From the picturesque Mont-Saint-Michel Bay on the Normandy coast in the north, which hosted part of the 2014 FEI (International Equestrian Federation) World Equestrian Games, down to the 2017 European Capital of Sport, Marseille, on the Mediterranean shores in the south, France provides a variety of startlingly beautiful backdrops for sport.
The major event ambitions that brought the World Cups in football and rugby union to the country in 1998 and 2007 remain undiminished, with the summer Olympics remaining at the top of the wish list.
Paris is hoping it will be fourth-time lucky by bidding to host the 2024 Games, having missed out in 1992, 2008 and, most recently and agonisingly, in 2012. According to Etienne Thobois, the chief executive of the Paris 2024 bid, France’s credentials are obvious for those who have experienced a sporting event in the country.
“We regularly welcome lots of different sporting events so there is that culture in place,” Thobois told SportBusiness International. “France has shown it is keen to organise a range of events, so there is expertise and experience and a very knowledgeable volunteer base.
“From accommodation and travel infrastructure, including the airports, roads and fast trains, we have a strong system. There is also expertise in how to present sporting events, and I don’t think there is ever a major event when there is not a full house of spectators.
“All of this allows us to welcome events, not only in Paris, but also in other parts of our country. France can provide iconic backdrops – like the Grand Palais for the 2010 World Fencing Championships – which provide great images for television and can showcase sports events worldwide.”
Broadcast initiatives such as the helicoptercam have helped to provide viewers with alluring views of the stunning landscape to events like the Tour de France.
It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that with 84.7 million international visitors in 2014, France was comfortably the most-visited country in the world, with Paris ranking as the third most-visited city on the planet with more than 16 million enjoying trips to the capital.
“The Games would provide an incredible boost for the sport events industry,” Thobois, who served as chief executive and managing director of the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, added. “We have seen the savoir faire following the Olympics in places like Beijing and London.
“We want to put the Olympics at the heart of various policies in relation to sport participation. We have carried out studies that have shown that 25 per cent of people who have started participating in sport in France have done so after a big event, so we know the Olympics would have a significant impact.
We have never cancelled an event for economic reasons. We always deliver on our promises
“There are opportunities before major events too. For instance, two to three years ahead of the Rugby World Cup, we started training administrators so that everyone was perfectly aware of the opportunities surrounding the event, in terms of increasing participation and offering every kid a chance.
“We believe that this sort of approach will have a knock-on effect on other things, such as health and social integration. Placing sport at the centre of society will be a project that runs for 10, 15 or 20 years.”
In 2024, it will have been 100 years since Paris, and France, last staged the summer Olympics. Thobois believes the introduction of IOC (International Olympic Committee) president Thomas Bach’s Agenda 2020 reforms has occurred at a perfect time for the capital.
“Paris has a lot of assets, and the key challenge will be to present them in a way that resonates within the Olympic Movement and are in line with Agenda 2020,” he added.
“Paris is going through an incredible transformation and cities must adapt to the challenges of sustainability. We believe that sport can be a crucial tool for that. We need to present a project that is responsible, yet enthusiastic and exciting, and we have a lot of passionate and motivated people.”
From an economic perspective, France’s financial outlook has been relatively turbulent since the 2008 global financial crisis. Some economists believe the country is unlikely to post growth of more than one per cent this year – lower than its Eurozone neighbours.
Thobois, meanwhile, insisted though that the country’s financial woes should be put into context, and argued that they have had little impact on the success of its sporting events.
“It might be growing less quickly, but the economy also decreased less quickly than others,” he said. “We have never cancelled an event for economic reasons. We always deliver on our promises.
“There is always a business sector to support events – not just the one-off events, but also the annual events such as French Open tennis at Roland Garros.
“The sports industry has not really been hit hard by the economic difficulties. Preparations for events take place over three or four years, and that makes the sport events movement less exposed to short-term issues.”
Martin Kallen is the operations director of the next mega-event on France’s calendar – the 2016 Uefa European Championship. When asked about the specific challenges of staging a major event in France, he – unlike Thobois – had money on his mind.
“The difficulties of the economy mean that the authorities need to carefully consider options before investing money as the general public can be sensitive to, and critical of, certain investments in this difficult period of time,” Kallen told SportBusiness International.
Football’s European governing body Uefa and the French Football Federation (FFF) have created a joint venture, Euro 2016 SAS, to manage preparations for the event. Euro 2016 SAS is 95-per-cent owned by Uefa and five-percent owned by the national governing body.
“It allows us to join our respective expertise and to combine the local knowledge with our international experience,” Kallen added. “At the same time it also provides for transfer of knowledge from Uefa to the FFF.”
France’s infrastructure from hosting previous major sports and non-sports events, means it doesn’t have to spend as much as some emerging markets in the bidding sector.
However, of the facilities hosting Euro 2016, those in Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon and Nice are completely new, while there has been extensive renovation work at the venues in Lens, Marseille, Paris, St Etienne and Toulouse. The Stade de France in Saint-Denis, built for the 1998 Fifa World Cup on the northern outskirts of Paris, is the only stadium not to have undergone major surgery.
“Preparations are going smoothly, and stadia are being delivered according to plan. We are even ahead of schedule due to the good weather conditions, with Lyon the last one to be finalised at the end of the year, and there are no particular issues at the moment,” said Kallen.
One of the key advantages is that most of the infrastructure is already in place
“We are now working on finalising all operational aspects with regards to venue management.
“One of the key advantages of France is that most of the infrastructure is already in place, with modern transportation systems, a wide network of accommodation available so that the major part of investments is for the building or renovating of stadia. These venues will be there for the next 40 years, so it is a worthwhile investment.”
There have been other areas of the French sports industry where significant investment has bucked the trend of broader economic stagnation.
In the French sports media sector, it has been a time of consolidation. This summer, media giant Vivendi acquired a majority stake in Dailymotion, the country’s influential online video platform, and upped its stake in pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus to more than 90 per cent.
Meanwhile in April, Eurosport France, which had previously been separated from Discovery Communications’ original deal to take over pan-European broadcaster Eurosport, also fell under the control of the media and entertainment company.
However, the explosive introduction of beIN Sports into the media landscape three years ago caused the biggest earthquake, which continues to reverberate. Three years on from the launch, beIN Sports has about 2.5 million subscribers in France.
Last year, the Tribunal de Commerce business court threw out Canal Plus’ demand for €293m in compensation for what it claimed was beIN Sports’ “abnormally low” subscription fees and excessive bids for sports rights, with the latter having made significant moves into French Ligue 1 and European club football.
“We have created the largest number of television-related jobs in France in the last 10 years, with 350 television-related permanent jobs created and most of them for people under the age of 35,” Yousef Al Obaidly, president of beIN Sports France, and deputy chief executive of beIN Media Group, told SportBusiness International.
“We have stimulated the pay-television market, creating net additional value for the sector…even though we don’t overbid on television rights.
“BeIN Sports has also become a key partner for French sports. We support amateur sports and are now a key contributor to the overall financing of many events and competitions.
“We progress in line with what was expected and we are working hard to keep it that way. BeIN Sports is always interested in acquiring new high-value and exclusive programmes in order to conquer new customers and enhance loyalty among our existing customers.”
The competition between beIN Media Group and Canal Plus – which has fought to defend its position by retaining rights for rugby union’s domestic Top 14 and sealing a sublicensing deal with public-service broadcaster France Televisións for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics – has been music to the ears of the country’s top sports properties and clubs.
The Top 14 is viewed as the richest domestic league in global rugby union, attracting the best talents from the northern and southern hemispheres. Meanwhile, it was telling in the recently-closed football summer transfer window that spending in Ligue 1 rocketed by 65 per cent to $270m – a higher percentage spike than any other major European league.
“The French market for multichannel pay-television has suffered for some years now, but beIN Sports channels have not directly suffered from this crisis because we penetrate a growing number of subscribing households,” said Al Obaidly.
“The reason is the clarity of our promise – premium sports at a reasonable price – and without a long-term commitment. It proves that the sports market can be resilient if the conditions for consumers are right.”
Next year, beIN Sports will show every match during Uefa Euro 2016, although it has sublicensed on 33 of the games to commercial broadcasters TF1 and M6.
“Football will keep on being the most popular sport, with the biggest worldwide appeal,” Al Obaidly added. “Euro 2016 will, of course, confirm and increase this trend in France.
“However, we have also noticed an increase in public interest towards other disciplines, like handball or tennis. We think we can be instrumental in the familiarisation of the public to a variety of sports, thanks to in the in-depth coverage we offer.”
Thobois agreed that France has established a reputation as a capable host for a variety of sporting events.
“We are very active in welcoming all kinds of sports and have hosted major events in archery, equestrianism, table tennis, badminton, rowing, judo, sailing, fencing, cycling, wrestling, canoeing and more, and of course golf ’s Ryder Cup will be arriving,” he said.
The 2018 Ryder Cup will take place at Le Golf National on the outskirts of Versailles near Paris. It will be only the second time in the history of the event that continental Europe will have hosted the United States versus Europe spectacle.
Richard Hills, Europe’s Ryder Cup director, led the committee that evaluated the bids to host the event from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
“Ryder Cup Europe’s main objectives extend into creating a positive effect on tourism, education and the development of the game of golf in France and throughout the continent,” Hills told SportBusiness International.
“Part of the successful French bid promised, by 2018, to build 100 nine-hole ‘urban’ golf courses, aimed at introducing as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible, to a new, quicker and more affordable form of the sport. This is an incredible project and one we hope will form part of a lasting legacy.”
The Ryder Cup will attract up to 250,000 spectators and generate significant income for the French economy. The impact of the last two European Ryder Cups was £82m at Celtic Manor Resort in Wales in 2012, according to IFM Sports Marketing Surveys, and £106m at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014, according to EIS by Sheffield Hallam University. Hills is relishing the opportunity “to showcase not only the Ryder Cup but golf as a sport to a new audience”.
“The one factor that stands out at France’s sporting events is the passion and knowledge of the spectators. Be it rugby, football, golf, tennis or cycling, the French people bring an incredible energy to live events.”
To continue reading the International Focus on France, please click the links below:
1. Brand Connection: Kevin Roberts investigates why and how brands are attracted to French sports properties.
2. Saints and Sinners: Bastien Drut, French economist and consultant for Soccernomics, gives his account of how football club Paris Saint-Germain is pioneering the domestic game