Lack of warning over French league suspension irks beIN’s Houzot

Florent Houzot, director of programming at pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports France has criticised football’s French Professional League (LFP) for a lack of warning over the move to suspend the country’s top two divisions.

The LFP’s board of directors made the move on Friday morning to immediately suspend Ligue 1 and the second-tier Ligue 2 “until further notice” because of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to L’Équipe, Houzot questioned why notice had not been given to the rights-holding broadcaster as editorial and production staff made their way to Ligue 2 grounds ahead of the Friday-evening coverage.

He said on Friday: “It wasn’t beIN Sports that asked to play behind closed doors or that the championship continued, as I have read in certain statements in recent days. On the other hand, what we ask for is to be warned a little in advance in so far as possible.

“Learning this morning at 10:21am – even if everyone was suggesting it – that the championship will be suspended, it’s not the best way for a league to respect its broadcaster.”

Houzot also questioned why the decision had not been made a day earlier.

He continued: “We weren’t very happy. There were enough prior elements that could anticipate this type of decision…

“…when you’re a partner, there’s a contract. We are within our right to ask a rights-holder to foresee the decisions a little and take into account the constraints of a broadcaster.”

The broadcaster and its erstwhile pay-television rival Canal Plus acquired Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 rights in the current cycle (2016-17 to 2019-20) in deals worth a total of €748.5m ($822m) per season.

The issue of any compensation due should the leagues fail to be completed is sure to be a thorny issue, as with all other top properties in major broadcast markets.

Christophe Lepetit, head of economic studies at France’s Centre for the Law and Economics of Sport (CDES), told Le Monde: “At the moment, the broadcasters are still in a position to broadcast [the matches in the future] because it’s a suspension and therefore a postponement.

“But in the event of a cancellation of the end of the championship then I have the feeling that Canal+ and beIN Sports could ask for a repayment from the LFP if the case of a ‘force majeur’ is provided in the contracts.”

At a meeting of the LFP board last week, it was reported that a potential loss in media-rights income of “€20m per match day” was also mooted should Canal Plus and beIN Sports decide against honouring their agreements.

Pay-television broadcasters worldwide have been left reeling by the mass cancellation of sports events that commanded a large part of their schedules and have turned to archive broadcasts and documentaries to plug the gaps.

The fact that French customers often only sign up on a month-by-month basis and can cancel their pay-television subscriptions at short notice is a further headache.

Lepetit noted: “If the situation continues for too long, subscribers may have to cancel their subscription, even temporarily.”