Canal Plus ‘won’t pay’ final Top 14 rights fee instalment

French pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus will not pay the final rights fee instalment for this season’s Top 14 rugby union competition, it has been reported.

The move comes despite expectations in some quarters that the broadcaster’s strong relationship with rights-holder Ligue National de Rugby would ensure the fee was met.

Canal Plus was next month due to pay the remaining 15 per cent of its €97m ($104.5m) fee for the 2019-20 season, but this will no longer happen, reports L’Équipe.

The broadcaster had shown 60 per cent of matches before the league was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Canal Plus has already paid 85 per cent of the annual fee (€82.5m), suggesting that, in theory, it could push for a re-imbursement of around €24.3m from the LNR.

Indeed, it could be argued that the Vivendi-owned broadcaster is owed more than that headline figures suggests given the main Top 14 interest is in the climax of the season, with the accompanying play-offs. However, L’Équipe reports the broadcaster will not seek reimbursement from the league in the interests of maintaining solidarity with a long-standing partner.

Canal has broadcast Top 14 since 1995 and its current contract runs from 2019-20 to 2022-23. It also holds the Top 14 international distribution rights from 2019-20 to 2024-25, which includes the second-tier Pro D2 international rights from 2020-21.

The strength of the broadcaster’s relationship with the league is thought to have left club presidents assuming that Canal Plus would pay the outstanding €14.6m balance for the 2019-20 season. However, this would have exposed the broadcaster to charges of favouritism given its refusal to pay a rights fee instalment to the French Professional League (LFP) for the top two tiers of French football league.

Canal Plus’s decision not to pay LNR the final fee instalment makes it more likely the league will do all it can to avoid having to end its season prematurely because of the pandemic. French President Emmanuel Macron has provided the LNR with a glimmer of hope in his announcement on Monday that the country could begin to relax its current Covid-19 lockdown from May 11.

The LNR had originally scheduled June 26 for the showpiece Top 14 Final, but L’Équipe has reported an alternative date of July 18 is now being floated. This could allow of the final to be played in front of spectators. President Macron left open the possibility of organising events with a large audience from mid-July.