Jaume Roures, the outspoken chief executive of Mediapro, has said that the Spanish broadcast production company and agency is ready to step in and show the end of the 2019-20 French football season, while rounding on Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 rights-holders Canal Plus and beIN Sports.
Following the recent moves by the pay-television duo to halt their payments to France’s Professional Football League (LFP), Roures claimed that Mediapro is ready to expedite its launch in France and show matches when they resume after the Covid-19 lockdown. He also recommitted to Mediapro paying its rights fee payments due next season.
Roures told L’Équipe that Mediapro is “willing to take the place of Canal Plus and beIN if things do not get sorted out”. Mediapro is, according to Roures, “ready to broadcast the end of the 2019-20 season even if it is played in June or July”.
Mediapro is launching subscription channels in France on the back of its €780m ($852m) contract for eight Ligue 1 rights packages from 2020-21 to 2023-24. Rights to Ligue 2 have also been secured over the same period after Mediapro and beIN emerged victories in an auction process that delivered €64m per season in rights fees.
Mediapro said in February that its new pay-television service would go live on July 25 to tie in with the start of the Ligue 2 season.
Their stance has prompted a strong response from Roures, who said: “This decision is wrong for two reasons. The first is that, at a minimum, there are matches already broadcast that have not been paid for…
“…the second point is that I cannot understand how Nasser [al-Khelaïfi, president of Paris Saint-Germain and beIN Media Group chairman] is leading a negotiation in which he is involved.”
Al-Khelaïfi is part of a four-strong contingent of Ligue 1 presidents chosen to discuss the fee dispute with Canal Plus. His appointment has raised eyebrows given the close relationship between beIN and the Vivendi-owned broadcaster. The latter has sublicensed rights to two Ligue 1 matches per matchday from beIN for the 2020-21 to 2023-24 cycle as part of a wide-ranging distribution and sublicensing agreement.
On the issue, Roures continued: “It’s incomprehensible. The attitude of Canal and beIN towards the League is also that of Nasser. We’re not talking about an outsider who appears to have come out of nowhere.
“BeIN has signed a strategic agreement with Canal, has ceded all its channels to Canal for exclusive distribution. They sold a [rights] package that they had for next season to Canal…there is a strategic alliance between the two. And beIN is [now] not paying either…it’s astonishing, if not ridiculous.”
Al-Khelaïfi responded to Roures’ stinging criticism by describing as “good news” the fact that Mediapro has confirmed it will meet its rights fee payments next season. He also said, perhaps with a touch of irony, that Mediapro’s offer to broadcast the two last months of the league is “even better news that we must study”.
Roures maintained that it is the time “to help the league and the clubs” in this situation and claimed that Canal Plus and beIN were looking to “take advantage of a bad situation in general to avoid having to fulfil the minimum of their responsibilities”.
He continued: “It is not a case of being a Good Samaritan but paying what you owe. That is our attitude towards the Spanish league. We work together and help.”
Mediapro has, Roures said, continued to pay its rights fees to LaLiga in Spain and the league has paid Mediapro for the host broadcast duties it has carried out.
Mediapro last month filed for a Temporary Employment Regulation File (ERTE) which affects as many as 1,200 of its employees as board members took a 50-per-cent pay cut.
Asked if Mediapro had the financial means to deliver on its various financial commitments, Roures replied: “We have the means to stick to them, otherwise I would not come and answer your questions. I am not saying there is no impact, but we are still respecting to our contracts. You will not be able to find someone who will say that we have not respected our commitments.”
Discussing the potential for a delay to the 2020-21 French football season, Roures said that Mediapro would adapt.
He noted: “We are speaking to the League. They want to start the season in late August or early September. If these deadlines are met, we will pay the money that was meant to be paid in August [€133.3m, on 5 August] will be paid. Mediapro will pay the League.”
On the issue of distribution agreements for the Mediapro channels, Roures said that talks had advanced but no deals were yet signed.
The target of 3.5 million subscribers by the end of the 2020-21 season “or start of the second” remains in place, he said. The €25-per-month price point could also be lowered when Mediapro reaches its subscriber target, Roures added.