Altice to change SFR Sport name as it seeks deals with rival telecoms groups
Altice, the telecoms group that owns France's SFR operator, is to change the name of its SFR Sport channels to RMC Sport as it seeks to persuade rival French telecoms operators such as Orange, Free, Bouygues and Canal Plus to carry the channels.
The name switch is due to take place this summer ahead of Altice’s launch of its Uefa Champions League coverage later this year, after Alain Weil, the operator’s chief executive, told L’Equipe that the SFR Sport name “did not facilitate” deals with rival telecoms companies.
The name change was also motivated by a desire to refresh the brand, in a move that Weil said will be accompanied by innovations in production and programming, including, perhaps, 3D.
The SFR Sport channels went live in the summer of 2016 solely on SFR’s own IPTV service and the (SFR-owned) Numéricable platform, as part of efforts to sign up more customers for broadband and telephone packages.
Distribution followed last August on Fransat, the satellite platform of European satellite operator Eutelsat, and Altice, which has undergone a restructuring after running up huge debts on various international acquisitions, is in talks to increase the availability of the channels.
Under the terms of the contract, the finals of both the Champions League and the second-tier Europa League, for which Altice also holds the rights, must be shown on a free-to-air basis, along with 15 other Europa League matches.
Weil said that Altice has been holding talks over the matches with free-to-air broadcasters including W9, the M6-owned broadcaster that holds Europa League rights under the present deal, and TF1.
However, Weil said that Altice could itself choose to broadcast the matches via its own free-to-air channel.
Meanwhile, SFR’s own subscribers will have to pay an extra €5 ($6.13) per month to watch Champions and Europa League matches broadcast via the SFR Sport pay-TV channels, Weil said.
Altice has invested heavily in sports rights at SFR since buying a majority stake in the company for €17 billion in 2014.
These have included rights to England's Premier League in a three-year deal worth €115 million a year that runs until the end of the 2018-19 season, as well as the Champions League and Europa League rights, which it acquired in a three-year, €1.05-billion agreement.
Altice is expected to face competition from Canal Plus and BeIN Sports to renew its Premier League rights from the 2019-20 season, and Weil said that it will “draw up a balance sheet” to decide whether to bid for the rights again.
Altice’s recent financial challenges have prompted concern among French soccer clubs that it might not be a competitive player in the bidding for the rights for France’s own top-tier Ligue 1 for 2020-21 onwards, a scenario that has persuaded the league to delay its tender until the end of this year.
Weil said: “I explained to the league that we had no interest in rushing. For different reasons, all actors interested in Ligue 1 are a little under reconstruction right now. It’s up to the league. But if the tender comes too fast, we won’t be there. And I’ve told them that!”