Posted on Jul 30, 2021, 5:00 PMUpdated on Jul 30, 2021, 6:15 PM
The football rights case is becoming more complex. To avoid having to pay an invoice that it considers too high, beIN Sports, which is in conflict with both the Professional Football League and Canal +, has just placed itself under the protection of the Nanterre commercial court by launching a conciliation procedure. .
In an e-mail sent to beIN employees, Yousef Al-Obaidly, president of beIN Sports France, whom “Les Echos” could consult, tries to reassure: “We were forced to take measures that we would not normally have. not had to take – for the sole purpose of protecting our interests. One of these measures is the opening of a conciliation procedure, the objective of which is to find an amicable solution to face the current crisis, through a known and competent conciliator – which unfortunately could not be obtained by the parties so far. I want to make it clear that the conciliation procedure is not about our solvency – it is simply a measure to protect our interests and find a solution between all parties, we hope. Hélène Bourbouloux, of the FHB firm, a “star” in the world of court administrators with several major media cases to her credit (EuropaCorp, Rally Casino, etc.), was retained as conciliator.
Last fall, Mediapro also requested a conciliation procedure, which resulted in the payment to the LFP of compensation around 100 million euros but which did not prevent the Spanish group from suspending its activities in France. .
But this is not exactly the same situation. Here, the objective is rather to return the ball to Canal, which has concluded a sub-license agreement with beIN for two Ligue 1 matches, at 332 million euros. But Canal + has terminated this contract which it no longer wants since Amazon seized most of the rights to French football for a much lower sum.
“Of course, beIN does not risk immediate bankruptcy, but if it has to honor this contract of 332 million each season, instead of Canal, it risks until filing for bankruptcy, insofar as these rights do not have been budgeted, warns a spokesperson for beIN. This amount represents more than our annual income in France. We consider that we sold these rights at the end of 2019 and we have restructured our business accordingly. ”
Force the League to turn against Canal
BeIN wants the encrypted channel of the Vivendi group, which until then broadcast Ligue 1, to take charge of the payment to the League. He has already obtained from the commercial court a suspension of this termination and a hearing on Monday, to examine the validity of this termination. But, now, by putting a conciliator in the middle, “beIN somehow forces the League to discuss with Canal directly to have its payments”, explains a source familiar with the matter. Hurry up. On August 5, beIN is supposed to pay the next deadline of 56 million to the League.
Suspend payments for several months
But this umpteenth episode opens a phase of great uncertainty for French football. “Such a conciliation procedure makes it possible to have a legal arsenal to neutralize hostile requests and in particular requests for payment. The company could suspend payments for the duration of the conciliation, which can be up to ten months. And then spread the debt over 24 months, ”explains Pierre-Alain Bouhenic, associate lawyer in charge of restructuring at Brown Rudnick.
BeIN’s whole defense strategy is to say that the League should speak directly with Canal. Friday morning, before the Judicial Court of Paris, in a hearing on the case between the League and beIN – a summary sent at the beginning of the week -, the latter’s lawyer said it and repeated: the LFP has a right recourse against Canal. “BeIN is not responsible for the Mediapro fiasco,” said Antony Martinez, partner of Archers. It is Canal which broadcast Ligue 1. “
Conversely, the strategy of the League, so far, is to turn only to beIN, which has contracted the famous lot. “We do not want to add unnecessary complexity,” said Yves Wehrli, at Clifford Chance, denouncing a “ping-pong game” between Canal and beIN a few days before the resumption of the championship. As the situation becomes more complicated, the League may also have to turn directly against Canal.
Anyway, French football is the big loser of all these battles. Canal like beIN have, in the end, one and the same ambition: to reduce the price of the bill for Ligue 1, denouncing the fact that the lot in question is worth 332 million euros, when Amazon pays it for the most part 259 million. Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. However, any questioning of this price would weigh on French football.
With a little more than a week of the resumption of the championship, the problem of broadcasting rights is far from being resolved… and could even worsen. “If there is a risk of a black screen, it means cascading recourse from the clubs,” said Yves Wehrli.