France Télévisions' Ernotte warns organisers not to 'privatise' Roland Garros
Delphine Ernotte, the president of France Télévisions, the country’s public-service broadcaster, has criticised the new rights sales process for tennis’ French Open, claiming that, as an incumbent partner, it is not getting enough respect, and that it would be damaging to “privatise” the tournament and have it shown largely by big-spending subscription platforms.
Last week, the French Tennis Federation launched an invitation to tender for domestic media rights to the Roland Garros event in Paris from 2021 to 2023.
The FFT is thought to be confident of an increase on the €24 million ($26.9 million) per year it currently receives in domestic media rights revenue with the introduction of floodlights meaning matches can be played in the evening, at prime-time, in the next cycle.
France Télévisions has held domestic broadcast rights to the French Open since 1987, and presently shares coverage with Eurosport France, the local arm of the pan-European sports broadcaster, in a two-year deal that expires after the 2020 tournament.
However, the new tender is open to all media operators and Ernotte fears that the major digital players such as Amazon could be prioritised over traditional broadcasters.
The online retail giant has already shown an appetite for tennis in landing rights in the UK to the US Open and men’s ATP Tour, and, from next year, the women’s WTA Tour.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Ernotte (pictured, left) said: “It’s normal for the federation to launch a call for tenders. But what I read in the press – that it wants a lot more money and will approach GAFA [Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple] - shocked me a lot.
“It’s a very cavalier way to treat a 30-year-old partner, which contributes to the success of Roland Garros.”
The current outlay of France Télévisions has not been disclosed, but it spent around €15.5 million per year in its contract that expired after the 2013 tournament.
Ernotte said that showing the French Open on public-service television enabled viewers to see it “in full for free,” adding: “There is a danger in wanting to privatise the sport.”
In 2014, Eurosport acquired the exclusive TV rights in France to matches between 11am (CET) and 3pm on the first nine days of the tournament, a condition that helped to increase the overall fee, but France Télévisions can still show these matches on its internet and mobile platforms.
Launching the tender last week, the FFT said interested parties have until 18 July to submit bids, with the rights expected to be awarded the next day.
FFT president Bernard Giudicelli claimed there had already been “many signs of interest."
The FFT has split the rights into three packages:
Lot 1: all matches excluding those played on Simonne-Mathieu, the new court opened this year, and the evening sessions
Lot 2: all matches played on Simonne-Mathieu and the evening sessions
Lot 3: Tournament exclusivity, including sub-licensing rights, and rights to four men’s ATP 250 tournaments played in France
The winners of Lot 1 and 2 will co-broadcast all the rounds in the tournament.
The FFT said in a statement: "The ambition of this call for applications is to optimise the revenues of the FFT while maintaining a strong exposure of the tournament.”
The federation will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2014-18 sales process when it scrapped its invitation to tender process after dismissing bids from France Télévisions and Eurosport deemed to be unacceptable.
This month’s French Open men’s singles final, which featured a record 12th title for Spain’s Rafael Nadal, was watched by an average of 3.31 million viewers on France Télévisions’ France 2 channel. A day earlier, France 2 pulled in 1.8 million viewers, a 21.1-per-cent share, as Australia’s Ashleigh Barty won her first grand slam in the women's final.
Eurosport this week reported a 21-per-cent increase in viewership across the tournament in France on its Eurosport 1 channel.