French clubs target new bumper TV deal
August 12, 2013
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal is among those thought to be pushing for a new TV rights deal © Getty Images
France's leading clubs are reportedly set to activate a cancellation clause in their agreement with broadcasters Canal+ in the hope of securing a more lucrative TV rights deal.
Canal+ has been the Top 14's principle partner since 1995 and has been a key factor in the league's development during the professional era during which time it has grown into arguably the strongest professional competition in the rugby world.
The latest agreement was struck in 2011 with Canal+, a pay-TV service that forms part of the French media and telecommunications giant Vivendi SA, able to negotiate a reduction on their previous deal as the only broadcaster vying for the rights.
The French clubs had to settle for a five-year deal worth €158.5m (£136.1m), or €31.7m (£27.2m) per season that reportedly left a bitter taste in the mouth of the owners who hoped to secure a boost in revenue in line with the bumper deal struck between Canal+ and France's leading football competition, Ligue 1.
However, the clubs held onto a lifeline in the form of a get-out clause that would allow them to cancel the agreement after two years in the hope that a more competitive rights market had developed. The window for such a move begins on September 1 and stretches to December 31 and would enable the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), the umbrella body for the country's leading clubs, to put the rights out to tender once again.
The last two years have seen beIN Sport, a global network of sports channels backed by Qatari Sports Investments, emerge as a key player in the world of TV sports rights and reports suggest they are interested in expanding their portfolio with Top 14 rugby.
L'Equipe reports that club presidents Alain Afflelou (Bayonne), Mourad Boudjellal (Toulon), Mohed Altrad (Montpellier), Jacky Lorenzetti (Racing Metro) and Laurent Marti (Bordeaux-Begles) are pushing for a re-negotiation. "Two years ago, Canal+ underpaid for the rights," said Marti. "The current agreement is laughable...We must terminate and re-negotiate."
Boudjellal added, "In 2011, their first offer of €20m was almost shameful, almost a way of taunting us."
beIN Sport is seen as a major rival for Canal+ in France despite boasting only a reported 1.8m subscribers to their rival's 9.8m. But any reported interest in the Top 14 may prompt a re-think by Canal+ and an offer of a new and improved deal.
Other clubs are understood to favour a re-negotiation with their long-term broadcast partners LNR president Paul Goze has refused to be drawn on the subject of a bidding war or contact with beIN Sport.
"Do not listen to everything that is said or written," he said earlier this year. "Our contract expires at the end of the 2015-2016 season with an option to terminate between September and December 2013. This is why we watch. We have decided nothing. And in the event that the LNR end the contract, it will launch a tender involving Canal."
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