The award of Uefa Champions League broadcast rights to French pay-TV broadcasters Canal Plus and beIN Sports for the 2021-24 cycle has come under severe criticism from Jaume Roures, chief executive of Mediapro, the Spanish production group and agency that lost out in the sales process.
Roures, speaking as Mediapro continues to ramp up its plans to launch subscription channels in France to showcase the country’s Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, has raised questions over the rights auction.
Canal Plus acquired exclusive rights to the first-choice matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, plus the Uefa Super Cup, and beIN won exclusive live rights to 104 Champions League matches per season. Free-to-air broadcaster TF1 has secured rights to the final with a total of €375m ($412.5m) per season said to have been generated from the new deals.
Roures told L’Equipe in the wake of the award that he believed there had been “chicanery” during the process.
He said: “Our offers were better in both rounds. Since yesterday afternoon, Uefa was trying to reach this agreement between Canal+ and beIN Sports to increase the offer…but we were not given the opportunity to do anything.”
The Mediapro chief executive said that the company would “take legal action against Uefa in Switzerland to request access to the documentation of the tender, in the first and second rounds.”
He continued: “If we can do it today, we will. We want the offers submitted by each [broadcaster] to be made public.”
Mediapro was “convinced” that it had won the invitation to tender, according to Roures, who claims there was “a shift between yesterday afternoon and this morning” that led to the rights being awarded to Canal Plus and beIN.
Uefa today declined to comment when contacted by SportBusiness for a response to Roures’ claims.
Altice, the telecoms operator, currently pays €350m per season for the exclusive rights from 2018-19 to 2020-21 to both the Champions League and Europa League.
Roures said that the winning sum of €375m per season was “a bit more” than Mediapro had offered in the second round.
He continued: “But if there was an offer of €375m [per season] as of yesterday, then why wait? They could have announced the result yesterday.”
He claimed that “nobody told us anything” since Mediapro lodged its second-round offer yesterday.
Team Marketing, Uefa’s sales agency for club competitions, had set a first-round bid deadline of Wednesday at 10am (CET) for bids for the Champions League, Europa League and new third-tier Europa Conference League. The uplift in the French market, coupled with the return of Champions League final coverage on a major free-to-air channel, will be viewed as a particular success by the agency and rights-holder Uefa.
Mediapro is launching subscription channels in France on the back of its €780m contract for eight Ligue 1 rights packages from 2020-21 to 2023-24. Rights to Ligue 2 have also been secured over the same period after Mediapro and beIN emerged victories in an auction process that delivered €64m per season in rights fees.
While live coverage of the final will return to a major free-to-air network in France, Roures flagged up the need for French football fans to now dig deeper into their pockets.
He remarked: “There is a theory that it is not good that football is on the same channel in France…but for subscribers, it’s worse [that different broadcasters acquired the rights]! They will have to go and find Ligue 1 on one side, a part of the Champions League on another and another part elsewhere. It’s not good for football, for the content, for the product.”
Meanwhile, Altice’s RMC Sport has reacted to the news of the loss of the rights by reaffirming its commitment to coverage until the contract expires.
RMC Sport underlined that it “remains the exclusive rights-holder for all matches this season as well as next season, 2020-21, i.e. up until June 2021”.
The sports broadcaster said that its teams remain “fully mobilised to offer the best sports content to subscribers across all of its channels” and, tellingly, specified that it will work hard to “continue to offer the best of European football after 2021”.