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Sports Rights In The Material World

Television viewers have benefited greatly from new actors on the media scene. All that competition from nimble new faces has brought more cool stuff to screens of all size. And prices are lower. Itís making broadcasters crazy.

Sue Me Sue You BluesSince entering the French television market barely three years ago, BeIn Sports has wasted no time upsetting long held sports rights assignments. The operator of three all-sports pay-TV channels, formerly known as Al-Jazeera Sports and owned by the Al-Jazeera Media Network, has acquired rights to lots of football, rugby, tennis and basketball as well as a smattering of boxing, cycling and swimming competitions. Before BeIn Sports arrived in France games and matches were scattered among TF1, Canal+ and, to a lesser extent, M6 and French public television.

All of this has delighted rights holders, leagues, teams and their agents. The French national rugby league (NLR) saw certain opportunity, announcing a rights auction last December, abruptly canceling an existing agreement with Canal+. With equal dash the tender was cancelled before broadcasters could mount offers and rights were promptly reassigned to Canal+; exclusive rights, five seasons and €355 million.

The moans of unfairness from the BeIn Sports offices in January have, according to Les Echos (March 19) turned into a formal complaint to the French Competition Authority (Autorité de la concurrence). BeIn Sports continues to claim a “lack of respect for transparent procedures.”

This is lathering into a fight multidimensional. Canal+ lawyers have also gone to the Competition Authority, reports Le Figaro (March 18), after the French Professional Football League (LFP) decided to move forward the auction for Ligue 1 rights, which Canal+ holds through the 2015 season. LPF president Frédéric Thiriez has made clear that he’s looking for more than €750 million a year, up from the current €600 million.

“The timing is not acceptable,” said Canal+ president Bertrand Méheut. “The (LFP) sold us the rights for four years until June 2016. I do not understand the rush.” Lawyers for Canal+ also filed a complaint at the Paris Civil Court (Tribunal de grande instance), reported L’Equipe (March 18), asking that the Ligue 1 rights tender, submissions due April 2, be suspended. The company pleads that some pay-TV subscribers might disappear because of the uncertainty. Reports suggest Canal+ has lost about 175,000 subscribers since the arrival of BeIn Sports. Canal+ lawyers are asking €293 million for “unfair competition.”

Last week BeIn Sports acquired a significant portion of FIFA 2016 World Cup football rights in a sub-licensing deal with major French broadcaster TF1. BeIn Sports will have pay-TV rights to all 64 matches with TF1 keeping 28 for free-to-air. TF1 paid €130 million to FIFA for French rights, a record, and reportedly recovered €50 million from BeIn Sports in an auction.

Only weeks ago Canal+ lawyers filed a complaint with the Competition Authority against all the major French TV networks over the practice of French film producers selling TV rights pre-release. Essentially, broadcasters then become investors in the movie productions with various options on broadcasting rights. Canal+ claims this shuts them out of the bidding. Canal+ Group is part of multimedia giant Vivendi and owns production studios and large rights libraries.

The major French TV operators are, however, agreed that video on demand is enemy number one. Concerned about “upheavals caused by the arrival of new actors” heads of TF1, M6 and Canal+ implored Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti to do something about Netflix, Apple, Amazon and Google. A meeting has been set for early April.

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