Canal Plus threatens French football blackout following Amazon deal

Amazon has agreed to purchase the broadcasting rights to most of France’s top football matches for the next three seasons, in a significant expansion of its ambitions in live sport in Europe.

The e-commerce giant defeated Canal Plus, Vivendi’s pay-TV unit, in an auction organized by France’s Ligue 1 governing body, the Professional Football League (LFP), on Friday in Paris . Eight matches per week were up for grabs, as well as the second division Ligue 2.

A media industry official close to the deal said Amazon has agreed to pay around € 275 million a year to broadcast around 80% of France’s top-level matches.

But the deal infuriated Vivendi executives because Canal Plus had previously agreed to pay 330 million euros for the remaining 20%, or only three games per week.

Canal Plus said in a statement on Friday that it would stop broadcasting Ligue 1 games altogether from next season, but did not say if it would continue to pay as agreed under its existing contract.

The result of the surprise auction is the latest twist in a difficult period for French football since its choice of a new broadcaster for 2020 to 2024, the Spanish-Chinese company Mediapro, has proved disastrous.

Mediapro stopped paying, then went bankrupt just six months after a four-year, 780 million euro deal.

This left the league without a broadcaster, mired in legal battles, and put French clubs under immense financial pressure just as the pandemic put an end to the sport last year.

The arrival of Amazon will be seen as a savior by some in Ligue 1.

The US tech company has regularly bought the rights to broadcast major sporting events in major markets, seeking to tie viewers to its Prime subscription services. In recent years he has secured the rights to broadcast National Football League games in the United States, has been a part of the English Premier League broadcasters and the ATP men’s tennis tour in the United Kingdom.

This week in France, Amazon broadcast live tennis matches from Roland Garros, the first time the tournament has not been broadcast for free on the country’s public television channels. But nightly sessions on Amazon Prime have been plagued by technical issues, and it’s unclear what impact this had on ratings since Amazon isn’t releasing numbers.

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Alex Green, who heads Amazon’s sports business in Europe, said: “We are incredibly happy to bring all of the most exciting clubs and matches” to his Prime video platform.

But the league’s choice has alienated Canal Plus and could threaten its existing broadcast contract with France’s largest pay-TV operator.

“After the failure of the choice of Mediapro made in 2018, Canal + regrets the decision of the LFP to choose Amazon rather than its historical partners Canal + and beIN Sports [The Qatar-based broadcaster]. Thus, Canal + will not broadcast Ligue 1, ”he said.

Canal Plus can now seek to challenge the conditions and the auction process in court. In recent months, he had pushed the league to start over with a new auction for all TV rights from 2021 to 2024, and had also filed an antitrust complaint to seek to force the hand. French regulators rejected the effort earlier this week, paving the way for the league to hold the auction on Friday.

The LFP did not respond to a request for comment.

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Guillermo Russell

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