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Regulator appeased as TF1 acquires 2020 Champions League final rights

UEFA Champions League trophy during 2020/21 Preliminary Round draw at on July 17, 2020 (Photo by Harold Cunningham - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

The final of this season’s Uefa Champions League in Lisbon will receive significant free-to-air coverage in France after the commercial broadcaster TF1 finalised a sublicensing deal with the Altice-owned pay-television broadcaster RMC Sport.

TF1 will broadcast live coverage from the re-arranged final, which will take place at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz as the climax to an abridged ‘Final 8’ tournament introduced by Uefa after the European football season was hit by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

RMC Sport, which holds the Champions League rights in France from 2018-19 to 2020-21, will also show the match live.

It will be the first time that TF1 has broadcast the Champions League final since 2015. The broadcaster last year secured the free-to-air rights to the finals of the 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 tournaments during the rights auction in France.

Broadcasters in France must ensure live free-to-air coverage of the Champions League final given the country’s listed events legislation.

The deal now struck between TF1 and rights-holder RMC in Sport comes after telco Altice last year became embroiled in a row with French broadcast regulator CSA over the selection of its news-focused BFM TV channel to show the 2019 final.

At the end of last year, the Conseil d’État, the highest administrative court in France, ruled that BFM TV was not authorised to broadcast last season’s final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

The court said that the broadcast breached the provisions of an agreement between the CSA and BFM TV signed in 2005. That agreement stipulated that the channel is “devoted to news”. The CSA had warned Altice ahead of the final that airing it on BFM TV would be incompatible with the 2005 agreement. After the broadcast of the final, the regulator sent BFM TV a formal notice that it had breached the agreement.

BFM TV attracted an average audience of 2.5 million viewers (and a 14.3-per-cent viewing share) for its live coverage of the 2019 final. The audience peaked at 3.1 million.

Pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus will hold the pay-television rights to the final from 2022 to 2024 as Altice continues to scale down its sports operations in France.

In May, Altice launched a bid to claim back a portion of its annual €350m ($406m) investment in Uefa Champions League and Europa League broadcast rights in France as the 2019-20 competitions continued to be disrupted by Covid-19.

Patrick Drahi, founder of Altice Europe, warned that Altice is “not going to pay for something we’re not getting” and that he expects “some money back very quickly” from Uefa, football’s European governing body.

Altice, which operates the RMC Sport subscription channels in France, has already paid its full instalment for the rights during the 2019-20 season.

Drahi remarked: “On the Champions League [and Europa League], a season costs approximately €350m and we pay in advance. So we already paid €175m in July last year for the first part of the season and we paid in January another €175m for the second part of the season.

“The problem is I didn’t see anyone playing since mid-March.”

Uefa’s sales agency for club competitions, Team Marketing, achieved a record €375m per season for the Champions League rights in France for the three seasons from 2021-22 to 2023-24.