Canal Plus will pay Top 14 rights fee ‘if clubs’ liquidity threatened’

French pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus will reverse its decision not to pay the final fee instalment for this season’s Top 14 rugby union competition if the move severely impacts clubs’ cash flow, it has been reported.

The broadcaster has proposed that, in those circumstances, it would release the outstanding €14.6m ($16m) rights fee then claw back the payment over the over the remainder of its contract, according to L’Équipe.

Canal Plus’s deal with rights-holder Ligue National de Rugby runs from 2019-20 to 2022-23 and is worth €97m ($104.5m) per season.

The Top 14 is not expected to resume this season after French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told the French parliament on Tuesday that the current seasons of professional sports would not restart because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is reported that the share of media rights and sponsorship in Top 14 clubs’ revenue mix is just under 25 per cent, which leaves the league less exposed than football to a loss of broadcasting income.

Canal Plus had shown 60 per cent of matches before the league was suspended. It has paid 85 per cent of the annual fee (€82.5m), suggesting that, in theory, it could have pushed for a reimbursement of around €24.3m from the LNR.

But the broadcaster did not pursue that action in the interests of maintaining solidarity with a long-standing partner. It has broadcast Top 14 since 1995 and also holds the competition’s international rights from 2019-20 to 2024-25, which includes the second-tier Pro D2 international rights from 2020-21.

Following a meeting with the French sports minister yesterday morning, the LNR is to recommend to its steering committee that the 2019-20 ends and to focus on starting the 2020-21 campaign in September.

On Thursday, Canal Plus terminated its French football league media-rights deal due to the end of the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons. Canal Plus and co-incumbent pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports had last week agreed to pay reduced sums for matches already played.