By Simon Ward

The warring parties in the dispute over domestic broadcasting rights to French soccer’s Ligue 1 are entering a conciliation process, with just a week to go until the start of the 2021-22 season.

The case involving pay-television operators BeIN Sports, Canal Plus and the LFP, the French professional league, reached the civil court of Paris today, with the league having taken legal recourse to secure the first payment of €56 million ($66.5 million), which is due on 5 August, the day before the start of the new campaign.

The LFP was seeking payment from BeIN under a four-year deal worth €332 million per annum covering two top matches per week, which came into effect last season, but with the Qatar-backed broadcaster having sub-licensed the rights to Canal Plus.

Vivendi-owned Canal Plus has been seeking to extricate itself from that agreement, after the LFP last month awarded the rights to the eight other matches per week to internet giant Amazon in a three-year deal worth €260 million per annum, replacing a previous collapsed deal with Spanish media company Mediapro.

However, with representatives of the three parties in court today, and Canal Plus now a co-defendant, Helene Bourbouloux, an experienced judicial administrator, was appointed as an independent mediator, and a first meeting could be organised in the coming days.

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In addition, BeIN, which is insisting that Canal Plus should foot the bill for the rights, and therefore that accommodation be reached between the network and the LFP, has secured the legal protection of the Nanterre Commercial Court to avoid having to make the payment itself.

The Paris court is due to issue a judgement on the LFP’s case against BeIN and Canal Plus next Wednesday, but this will be circumvented if a settlement between the parties is reached in the meantime.

The commercial court had yesterday ruled that Canal Plus cannot temporarily terminate the sub-licensing agreement, which is due to run to the end of the 2023-24 season, as BeIN has acceded to Canal Plus’ demand to join it in taking legal action against the LFP over the rights sales process.

In an email to employees today, seen by French media, Yousef Al-Obaidly, the president of BeIN Sports France and chief executive of parent BeIN Media Group, stated: “We were forced to take action that we normally should not have taken – for the sole purpose of protecting our interests.

“One of these measures is the launch of a conciliation process this week, the objective of which is to find an amicable solution to address the current crisis, through a known conciliator and competent, which unfortunately could not be achieved by the parties so far.

“I want to make it clear that the conciliation process is not about our solvency – it is simply a measure to protect our interests and find a solution between all parties, we hope.”

The rights awarded to Amazon were previously held by Mediapro in a four-year deal worth €3.3 billion that was terminated, after just a few months, in December of last year.

Canal Plus has accused the league of a “distortion of competition” and “abuse of dominant position” for not putting back on the market the rights to the two matches per week it has been sub-licensing from BeIN, with legal action pending.

Last season, the LFP re-tendered the 80 per cent of Ligue 1 and 2 matches held by Mediapro.

In the end, no suitable offers were received — Canal Plus and BeIN did not even bid — with the LFP and Canal Plus eventually agreeing on a deal for Ligue 1 to the end of the 2020-21 season, while BeIN showed all Ligue 2 games.

BeIN retains rights to two top matches per week from Ligue 2 but, while it wants to review the valuation of its €30-million-a-year deal after Amazon was awarded rights to the other eight games for €9 million per annum, it is presently honouring payments.