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Didier Quillot, chief executive, Ligue de Football Professionnel

8 Jun 2018

Interview with Didier Quillot, chief executive of the Ligue de Football Professionnel, about the league’s new domestic media-rights deals for Ligue 1, from 2020-21 to 2023-24.

The last time the LFP sold its rights it secured only a modest increase. How have you managed to increase the media-rights fees so significantly in the new cycle?

It’s almost 60 per cent more than the current cycle, from 2016 to 2020. We are happy but not surprised, for three reasons.

Firstly, the value of Ligue 1 is increasing. During the last season match attendances increased by seven per cent. We also had many goals – 2.8 goals per match, number two in Europe after Germany. We have big stars at PSG like Neymar, [Edinson] Cavani, [Marco] Verratti, there is [Radamel] Falcao at Monaco, [Luiz] Gustavo at Marseille, [Mario] Balotelli at Nice. When you are in the entertainment industry you need stars. The stadiums we have are excellent. We have a number of investors coming in, not just the Qataris at PSG or the Russians at Monaco – Chinese investment at Lyon and Nice, American investment in Marseille. It is a virtuous cycle. The product itself is increasing in value.

Secondly, the competition. We set up a mechanism in the tender to allow newcomers to bid. We were expecting the GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook or Apple – but none of them came, like for the Premier League in England or Serie A in Italy. But we have Mediapro. The competitive tension was there with four bidders. We had Canal Plus, beIN, Mediapro and Iliad.

Thirdly, the tender itself was very sophisticated. It was a process of sequential offers. You would buy a slot then you would buy the choice of match. It was a sophisticated and mechanical tender which created an extra inflation.

We have a good product, we had competitive tension and we had a sophisticated tender. We did it well. We were very confident. We started to work last September, we have worked for almost a year on this. We decided to launch two years before the end of the current cycle in case of a lack of success, so we could have relaunched a tender in 2019. The choice of timing was very well prepared. It was my decision to do this in spring 2018. We were never precise with the bidders, but we had told them it would be at some point in 2018 and we have done what we said.

It appears that Mediapro will launch a channel in France rather than selling on the rights to local broadcasters. What have Mediapro told you about their plans?

What they have told us is that they want to be an editor of a channel which is 100 per cent football, with Ligue 1, but not only. They bid for three packages. They will have eight matches and one simulcast per match-week. That’s a good starting point to build a channel. Their intention is to become a broadcaster. They have not come here to be a broker. They have said they appreciate the increase in the value of Ligue 1. 

Jaume Roures held a press conference in Paris last week. He said they will charge a subscription fee of about €25 per month. With such a pricing policy they will need to recruit between three million and five million subscribers. This is more or less all I can say. They have two years to prepare. They now have to agree distribution with all the telecommunication and satellite companies like Orange, Bouygues, Free, SFR and CanalSat.

Many observers we have spoken to think there will be consolidation in the French market as there will now be four pay-TV players in Canal Plus, beIN Sports, SFR Sport and now Mediapro. What do you think?

My first objective is to be sure that the French viewers will be able to get what they like of Ligue 1. The most important thing is not the number of channels there are in the market, but the distribution that they get. The key players in France are the internet service providers and the telcos, the companies that will have distribution agreements with the broadcasters. I consider the user experience. 

Will there be consolidation in the French market? I don’t know. But if you think rationally, consolidation could appear. Four major pay-TV players for a market like France is a big number. I have no indication at all of the intentions of the four players, but I do believe that this could happen. It makes sense in terms of economics.

Mediapro recently acquired domestic rights to Serie A in Italy for €1.05bn per season, but that deal looks to have been voted down. What is your take on this, and will there be any consequences for Ligue 1?

First of all, I think that the Italian situation and the French situation are totally different. In Italy you have a big imbroglio. They have had three tenders in six months – all of them were unsuccessful, all were done only a few months before the launch of a new season. This was very badly managed by Serie A. 

What we did in France was launch a tender two years before the end of the current cycle. Our tender was absolutely crystal clear: if you wanted to participate you had to bid as an editor, not as a broker. In Italy, I get the impression there was one for editors and one for brokers. Mediapro tried to repackage the rights, the courts say they can’t, Mediapro appeals. It has not yet been decided if Mediapro was right to repackage the rights. 

Serie A also asked for a bank guarantee of €1.2bn which is totally unbelievable. How can you put a bank guarantee on that? That’s huge. But now it looks like they will do a deal with Sky worth between €900m and €950m per season, even though they had a deal with Mediapro for €1.05bn per season. It’s strange, but I don’t want to comment more on that. 

We have asked for a solidarity guarantee from the shareholders of Mediapro. Their first payment will be due in 2020. I think there is no consequence from Serie A to Ligue 1. If anything it could be a positive one for Ligue 1 if Mediapro is not spending €1bn per year in Italy as it will be easier for them to spend €700m or €800m per year in France.

It looks like Canal Plus is in the worst position of the pay-TV broadcasters in France following its loss of Ligue 1 rights. What do you make of their future?

I don’t want to comment about their strategy. They may have to come up with an alternative model without football.

BeIN has lost Ligue 1 rights but will pay substantially more in the new cycle, which looks like a bad outcome for them. Where do you think they stand now?

They paid for fewer matches but they have paid for more premium matches. They will have 28 first-choice matches. For 28 out of 38 match-weeks they will have every match of the top teams, either PSG or Marseille. I think they have replaced the strategy of volume with a strategy of premium content. They are still on Ligue 1.

Ahead of the tender, Alain Weill said SFR would not bid in the tender. Did you think this was a bluff, or did you know they wouldn’t be bidding?

They said they would probably not participate, and in the end they didn’t. To be quite frank, I was not able to set up any forecast about their participation or not. The day before the tender I was not able to forecast anything on SFR. I didn’t know if they were bluffing or not. I was sure that Canal Plus, beIN and Mediapro would be there. I was not worried about the competitive tension, I had three big bidders even without SFR.

You say you were sure Mediapro would bid. How long have you been speaking with them?

The first time I met [Mediapro founder] Jaume Roures was 18 months ago. It was an informal lunch. Then we had four or five meetings in the last two months with all the likely bidders. We knew that Mediapro would be there.

The league’s domestic media-rights revenues will increase substantially in the new cycle, placing it behind only the Premier League and LaLiga in Europe. But Ligue 1’s international rights are far less valuable and are locked into a long-term deal with beIN, in which beIN pays a minimum guarantee of €80m per season. Do you think you will exceed the guarantee?

I think Ligue 1 is now perceived to be more valuable, partly thanks to our domestic tender, and I have no doubt that the international value will follow. We are now renegotiating deals on a country-by-country basis. We have done deals in Europe and Africa. We are currently doing North America and South America, and we will soon do the Middle East and Asia. We have to finish this by the end of the summer. I am confident that the league and beIN together will exceed the minimum guarantee of €80m per year.


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