Canal Plus and LFP at loggerheads over refusal to pay rights fee instalment

A war of words has erupted between French pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus and the French Professional League (LFP) over the former’s refusal to pay an upcoming €110m ($120m) instalment on this season’s Ligue 1 and 2 fee obligation due to the Covid 19-related suspension of fixtures.

Canal Plus’s chief executive Maxime Saada informed LFP of the company’s position in a letter, which was reported by French newspaper L’Equipe over the weekend. Saada said that the coronavirus crisis had affected “almost all of the activities” of the Canal Plus Group.

He wrote: “Our pay-TV activities in France are strongly impacted by the closure of a large part of our sales channels and by the weakening of the attractiveness of our sport offers. Our advertising revenues are in free fall…Our international television and Studiocanal activities are also severely affected.

“We are therefore obliged to take the necessary measures to mitigate the financial impact of this crisis.”

The €110m instalment is due on April 5, and the LFP has reacted with incredulity at Canal’s stance and what they consider a lack of solidarity in the circumstances.

The league said that, in any event, Canal still owes it money despite the suspension of fixtures, as 28 of the 38 matchdays had been played. This amounts to 73.7 per cent of the full product having been delivered, while Canal has, so far, only paid for 67 per cent of the product. The LFP calculates the outstanding balance at €43m, including relevant taxes.

Canal and Qatar-backed pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports pay a combined €748.5m on average per season for rights to Ligues 1 and 2 from 2016-17 to 2019-20.

BeIN is also scheduled to make a fee payment on April 5 of €42m, according to L’Equipe. It is estimated that a €15m portion of that figure corresponds to matches that have already taken place. However, beIN has yet to inform the LFP of its own stance on the matter.

Canal and beIN are then due to make further fee instalments totalling €140m on June 5.

Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 have both been suspended since March 13 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The LFP has provisionally scheduled a resumption on May 15, with a planned end to the season on July 15.

However, this schedule remains tentative and there is a real possibility that the 2020-21 season timetable will also be affected. This holds up the possibility of further fee wrangling between the LFP and Canal for the next season.

Canal Plus 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. Spanish agency and broadcaster Mediapro holds the rights to the bulk of Ligue 1 matches over the new cycle and is to launch a new pay-television service in France.

The LFP recently gave Canal Plus and beIN Sports access to a host of archive content following the postponement of the league.