Mediapro drops Uefa legal threat, in talks with Altice over Champions League

Mediapro, the Spanish production group and agency, will not pursue legal action against Uefa following the recent Uefa Champions League media rights auction in France.

Mediapro lost out to pay-TV broadcasters Canal Plus and beIN Sports (and commercial free-to-air broadcaster TF1) as a total of €375m ($411.3m) per season was generated by Team Marketing, Uefa’s agency for club competitions.

Jaume Roures, Mediapro’s chief executive, threatened legal action in the wake of the award of rights from 2021-22 to 2023-24, claiming that the Spanish company had submitted the best offer after two rounds of bidding, but has now withdrawn such recourse.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with L’Équipe, during which he also revealed Mediapro is in negotiations with Altice to take on the last season of its Champions League deal, he said: “We are not going to file a complaint, even though the explanations given by Uefa were not 100-per-cent satisfactory.

“In any case, we were not ready to pay €370m [per season, the combined sum paid by Canal Plus and beIN]…even if our offer was very close.

“When we have this type of gap, then it’s perhaps better for Uefa to negotiate…but they did not do it.”

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. TF1 picked up free-to-air rights to the Champions League final.

Roures had claimed there had been “chicanery” during the rights sales process and insisted that Mediapro lodged the highest bids in both rounds.

He had said Mediapro would “take legal action against Uefa in Switzerland to request access to the documentation of the tender, in the first and second rounds.” He added last month: “If we can do it today, we will. We want the offers submitted by each [broadcaster] to be made public.”

On the possibility of acquiring the Champions League rights for the 2020-21 season, the last of Altice’s current three-season deal, Roures said that there were talks underway.

He noted: “If I can find a sensible agreement with them then we’ll do it.”

Altice currently pays €350m per season for the exclusive rights from 2018-19 to 2020-21 to both the Champions League and Europa League and showcases the action on its RMC Sport subscription channels.

However, the recent award of Champions League rights to a reenergised Canal Plus and beIN, plus the impending launch of Mediapro’s subscription channels for French football’s Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, has raised questions over Altice’s future in the French sports broadcast landscape.

Roures added that he doesn’t believe that Mediapro “is the only one” to be in negotiations with Altice.

The bulk of the rights to the Uefa Europa League and new Europa Conference League remain on the market for the 2021-24 cycle (with the exception of the package secured by Canal Plus).

Asked about Mediapro’s interest in those rights, Roures replied: “We came to France first and foremost for Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. For the rights you are talking about, the bids must be submitted next week, so we will see then.”

The pay-TV rights to the next summer’s Euro 2020 football tournament are not of interest to Mediapro, however, according to Roures. Commercial broadcasters TF1 and M6 have jointly acquired free-to-air rights to 23 of the 51 matches, but a pay-TV deal is still to be done.

The Mediapro chief executive remarked: “It’s a competition with lots of free-to-air matches. The value to attract subscribers is very small. It is not part of our project.”

Bank guarantees “never provided elsewhere”

Roures was also quizzed by the French press about the lack of bank guarantee for Mediapro’s investment in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 rights, a topic of much consternation among journalists and club presidents alike in recent months.

Mediapro is launching subscription channels in France on the back of its €780m-per-season 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.

Roures stated: “We have never provided bank guarantees elsewhere, not in Canada, not in Spain and not to Uefa. In France, we were asked for a guarantee from our [shareholding] company. That’s something very serious. Until our first payment – for Ligue 2 in the middle of July [2020] – I know that I will continue to be asked the question. Up until I pay.”

Discussing its plans for French football, Mediapro said that it would initiate change to the production of matches, doubling the number of fixtures offed in ‘4K’ ultra HD and providing new and innovative cameras and angles.

A name for the channel has yet to be chosen, but it will not carry the Mediapro identity, Roures said, given that a French name will be required.

Roures also distanced Mediapro from a bid for rights to England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga or Italy’s Serie A when they come on the market again.

He remarked: “It’s not necessary. What’s more, the prices paid here for these leagues is crazy. Paying over €100m per season for the Premier League is crazy.

“When you count the number of subscribers that these leagues bring in compared to French football, then these are not coherent prices. In Spain, DAZN bought the Premier League for €20m, [so] we let it go, it’s already too expensive.”