Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi’s arrival to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) might have been the big headline today, but who will broadcast his first game is a major question mark. While Ligue 1, France’s billion-dollar first division soccer league, is thrilled about La Pulga’s arrival, it must now navigate an unresolved dispute between media companies Canal+ and beIN Sports.
France’s soccer league has been in turmoil ever since Mediapro, the Spanish broadcasting group, failed to make payments to Ligue 1 for television rights to broadcast about 80% of the league’s matches between 2020-2024. The agreement, valued €882 million ($980 million) a year, was terminated in the first quarter of 2020 when the company failed to pay LFP, the governing body of France’s professional leagues due to pandemic-related revenue losses.
Struggling to find a broadcaster for 2021-2024, LFP reached an agreement with Canal+, the largest broadcaster in France, to televise the two best matches of the week, on Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings. However, the league still needed to broadcast eight more matches per week. That’s when beIN Sports, the official international broadcaster of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 (the second division), came in. The Qatari network agreed to pay for domestic rights for the Ligue 1 if Canal+ agreed to show them in its platform.
A month before the kickoff of the new season, Canal+ announced it terminated its contract with beIN Sports and would not broadcast Ligue 1. The fallout came after LFP signed a three-year domestic rights deal with Amazon to stream 304 Ligue 1 matches per season each year along with top pick games from Ligue 2—at a price much lower than what Canal+ and beIN Sports agreed to pay to for the broadcast rights. This is the biggest soccer contract to date for the online retail behemoth’s streaming platform Amazon Prime.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the deal and its details with Sportico over email but declined to comment on the financial terms. However, sources close to the deal said it was approximately €250 million per season, about €500 million less than the price Spain’s Mediapro negotiated with LFP in 2018, and what Canal+ had agreed to pay for broadcasting rights at the end of 2020/2021 season.
Last Thursday, a court in France ordered Canal+ to honor its €332 million ($393 million) per year commitment to beIN Sports to produce and broadcast the agreed number of matches. Canal+ faces a penalty of €1 million per day if it does not respect the ruling.
“The domestic Ligue 1 rights remain fragile,” Dan Cohen, SVP of Octagon Sports said in a phone interview. “The court’s decision does not mean that the issue is resolved.”
Canal+ aired the opening week games, but it is likely to appeal the court’s decision. The important question is whether the media company supports the growth, promotion and marketing of Ligue 1 if they are legally bound to air the matches against their desire.
Cohen thinks it is an extraordinary moment for Ligue 1 and its broadcasters. “Messi’s presence would boost value and attractiveness of Ligue 1, just as Ronaldo’s arrival to Serie A did,” he said. “Since Juventus confirmed Ronaldo, Serie A’s broadcast value went up 27% in the U.S.”
While the future of the national TV broadcast is unclear, those who are interested in watching Messi and Neymar online will have to fork out €12.99 ($15.25) a month on top of their Amazon Prime membership. The streaming platform also offers a weekly show, featuring commentary anchored by retired soccer superstars and former coaches such as Thierry Henry, the World Cup-winning French player who finished his career in New York Red Bulls in 2014.