Lyon's Aulas 'will take action' over Canal-BeIN 'collusion' if LFP doesn't
Jean-Michel Aulas, the outspoken president of French Ligue 1 soccer club Lyon, is said to be ready to take action over the alleged collusion between pay-TV broadcasters Canal Plus and BeIN Sports during the top flight’s broadcast rights auction in 2014.
The LFP, France’s professional soccer league, met last Thursday to discuss the sensitive subject of claims by François Hollande, the French president, that he intervened in the media rights auction two years ago to help Canal Plus.
While the LFP did not take any decision about any possible legal action, Aulas is reported to have said that he will initiate legal steps in the name of his club if the LFP does not itself take action.
Aulas told various people that he would take action on behalf of his club given it is listed on the stock exchange, and he therefore owes it to the shareholders, according to a report in L’Equipe.
Ligue 1 clubs are liable to consider compensation claims, although one board member said: “We would do better to look after our customers and help them to find subscribers.”
International law firm Clifford Chance is thought to have briefed the LFP’s board on the consequences of legal action or a complaint to the French competition authority.
Hollande's explosive comments made in a book published in October have caused ructions in the French game.
The book (entitled 'A President should not say that...') revealed comments made to Le Monde journalists Fabrice Lhomme and Gérard Davet about the interference in a sales process that eventually netted €726.5 million (now $768.6 million) per season in rights deals with Canal Plus and BeIN Sports, its Qatar-backed pay-TV rival, running from this season until 2020.
Hollande is quoted as saying: "We saved Canal. I discreetly welcomed [Rodolphe] Belmer and [Bertrand] Méheut [Canal Plus' then chairman and chief executive, respectively].
"I called the emir of Qatar and told him, 'You will come to France in June, we defended you against the Saudis, we are with you, but what are you going to do about the Rafale [fighter jets]. There is also the question of the football... I'm looking for there to be a sharing [of rights].'"
Lhomme and Davet wrote in the book that, ahead of Hollande's intervention, BeIN was set to win all the Ligue 1 rights and that Canal Plus' business model was therefore in "life-threatening danger."
Frédéric Thiriez, the LFP president at the time of the invitation to tender, recently described the revelations as a "serious breach" of competition law. He said that the league had its suspicions at the time, and "now it has the proof" and the LFP must bring the issue to court in order to claim damages from the state.
In the event, Canal Plus, which recently introduced new subscription packages following a significant fall in pay-TV subscribers, went on to buy three rights packages (including the top two packages) in the 2014 auction, paying €540 million per year and keeping the top games.
BeIN picked up rights to three packages for €186.5 million per season as the value of the Ligue 1's domestic rights rose by 20 per cent in comparison to the previous cycle.