Left in dire straits by the disastrous combination of the Covid-19 crisis and the collapse of a record TV rights deal, clubs in France’s Ligue 1 are hoping a new broadcast partner can be found next week in order to pull them back from the financial brink.
The French league (LFP) will on Monday put out to tender the domestic broadcast rights to Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 that had been sold to Mediapro – a Spanish company controlled by a Chinese investment fund – for 780 million euros ($946m) a season for the four years to 2024.
When the deal was signed, French clubs rejoiced. It accounted for 80 per cent of all domestic rights. Together with the remaining 20 per cent, they were looking at a combined 1.15 billion euros annually, comparable with Germany, Spain and Italy if not the Premier League.
Then came the pandemic, which led to a premature end to last season – Europe’s other major leagues, in contrast, eventually restarted – and has seen supporters almost completely locked out this season, wiping out gate receipts.
Then, in October, Mediapro failed to meet a deadline to pay a 172 million-euro chunk of the contract. In December the LFP terminated the agreement, and now they are hoping to be rescued by a new offer.
It seems Canal Plus and Qatar’s beIN Sports are the only possible contenders to save the day, but Canal Plus already pays 330 million euros a year for 20 per cent of the rights, an agreement it wants to rip up and also have put out to tender again.
This week sources close to the LFP said clubs in Ligue 1 were set to suffer combined losses of over 1.3 billion euros this season.
Much of the projected losses look set to be absorbed by Paris Saint-Germain, with sports daily L’Equipe last week reporting the reigning champions were braced for a 204 million-euro black hole.
Not all clubs in France can lean on mega-rich owners from Qatar though – the rest of Ligue 1 relies heavily on an ability to sell players to the Premier League or elsewhere. And yet the transfer market is depressed because of the pandemic.
Marseille this week sold midfielder Morgan Sanson to Aston Villa for a reported £15.5 million ($21.2m) but such deals are rare.
To top it all there are the growing noises of a breakaway European Super League which could turn the heads of PSG.
The outlook is extremely uncertain for the French game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DIMITRI PAYET
The former West Ham United star is a symbol of the troubles afflicting Marseille. His team have slipped to sixth on a run of one win in eight league games.
The 38-times capped playmaker has been relegated to the role of substitute recently and details of a feud with French international teammate Florian Thauvin have dominated headlines.
Sometimes dismissed as out of form and overweight, Payet reportedly lashed out at Thauvin for being selfish.
“They won’t be going on holiday together,” admitted Marseille coach Andre Villas-Boas.
Payet will be 34 in March but Marseille still need Payet on form if they are to turn their season around, starting against Rennes on Saturday.