While football came close to bankruptcy last year, Vincent Labrune, the president of the LFP, wanted to change everything. After having created a commercial company responsible for the marketing of rights, he announces that he is aiming for a very high valuation during the decade with the objective of 1.8 billion in 2028. But is it really possible?
In an interview given to the economic daily The echoes, last Friday, Vincent Labrune announced things very clearly. He wants to revitalize the competitiveness of French football and regain a market value comparable to that of European standards. To put it simply, he wants to reach 1.8 billion euros from 2028 and regain a level equivalent to the Spanish or English championships. His arguments are simple. Because France is an economically powerful country, with high commercial value and a high population density, he is convinced that Ligue 1 will be able to reach such a sum in less than six years. Add to that the recent creation of a commercial entity, part of which was sold to the investment fund CVC Partners, responsible for the marketing and exploitation of broadcasting rights and commercial rights, Labrune believes that this is perfectly possible.
Moreover, this business plan was validated by CVC, and all the collaborators and the leaders of the league work in this direction. It takes a rebound of more than 157% in just two marketing cycles with both an improvement in national rights, currently held by Amazon and beIN Sports (which resells under license to Canal+), and international rights, only valued at 75 million euros and fully owned, until 2024, by beIN Sports.
But is this really possible? Why should what didn’t work in 2020 work in 2028? Why should French football, which flopped at 1.2 billion euros, be working perfectly eight years later? Hasn’t the LFP learned from its mistakes, after the bankruptcy of Téléfoot la Chaîne and the withdrawal of Mediapro? Doesn’t she have too much self-esteem, compared to the wealthy Premier League or the prestigious La Liga?
Do we really believe in it, a Ligue 1 at 1.8 billion?
To try to answer these questions, let’s weigh the pros and cons. Let us ask ourselves if the French Ligue 1 can truly and objectively be sold for more than a billion, when sportingly it is only the fifth European championship and has only one Champions League to its credit, with the Marseille title in 1993.
First of all, remember that in 2017, when Didier Quillot was leading the LFP, the American consulting firm Boston Consulting Group estimated a price for Ligue 1 of between 800 and 1.2 billion euros, taking into account account economic forces, sports results and the functioning of the market. Moreover, the deputy Cédric Roussel, instigator with the deputy Régis Juanico of a parliamentary inquiry into TV rights, had recognized that a price higher than 1 billion was perfectly rational and achievable.
In fact, he believes that what was wrong was not the pretension of French football to believe itself bigger than it was, but all the adventures and the economic elements that marked the period 2018-2020. . In two years, France has experienced the Covid, which has slowed down the championship, postponed meetings, imposed behind closed doors that do not sell well on television and closed bars. On this subject, the president of Mediapro, Jaume Roures, questioned during the parliamentary inquiry, estimated that it would have cost up to 15% of Téléfoot’s turnover. By closing the bars, we block some of the non-subscriber viewers and we lead to a specific stoppage of subscriptions. If, by 2028, no pandemic occurs and no confinement is imposed, things will not be the same and the rights holders could find themselves there financially. Which should lead to a price appreciation, theoretically.
What’s changing: the end of streaming and the era of OTT
Moreover, in 2018, when Mediapro had acquired 80% of the rights, Roures claimed that Quillot had promised him an anti-streaming law, responsible for a loss of at least 25% of potential subscribers. And indeed, it should have been voted in March 2020, under the impetus of the Minister of Culture at the time, Franck Riester. A project was even on the agenda in the Assembly before the Covid turned everything upside down and slowed down the parliamentary calendar. The law will not have been passed until October 2021, with application from January 2022. Now it exists and should help rights holders.
Finally, what sinned in 2020 was the interference of Canal+, which refused broadcasting agreements with Mediapro. Téléfoot wanted to be available on the boxes of the encrypted channel, bringing together more than 8 million subscribers, therefore as many new potential customers, except that the latter has always refused to sign the agreement. Which could have accelerated the failure of the Spanish channel. But now consumption patterns have changed and everyone is using OTT, Over-The-Top, an OTT service without the involvement of a traditional network operator. Amazon is the perfect illustration of this. In the future, a channel will be able to establish itself perfectly within the audiovisual landscape without negotiating upstream broadcasting agreements with the operators, it will simply be enough to go through an Internet connection, with a computer or a connected television.
TV rights are not an exact science
If we stop at this analysis, we should therefore estimate that the fateful threshold of one billion would not be pretentious and could be reached easily. Except that nothing is less certain. First, the market has tightened significantly. Canal has reaffirmed it, it no longer wants to broadcast French football, which would not work. Bein should follow, being jointly linked with the encrypted channel. There remains Amazon, which benefits from a situation of quasi-monopoly by offering an extremely low purchase price. What would be its interest in it increasing in future years?
Regarding international rights, they are certainly devalued today, at only 75 million euros. But could they only reach 300 million like the Bundesliga or Serie A? Even exceed them and reach the Spanish or English averages? While French clubs, despite PSG, do not shine so much internationally? Yes, from now on, part of the allocation for international rights will be conditional on performance in the European Cup, which will encourage teams to perform. But isn’t it too late? Is France really part of the Big Five or is it only the fifth wheel of the Big Four ? We are entitled to ask the question. Just like believing in 1.8 billion in 2028.
By Pierre Rondeau