By Simon Ward
BeIN Sports, the international pay-television broadcaster, is taking court action to compel French counterpart Canal Plus to honour payments under a sub-licensing deal for domestic rights to Ligue 1, the country’s top soccer league.
Qatar-backed BeIN yesterday appealed to the commercial court of Nanterre as it seeks a guarantee that Vivendi-owned Canal Plus will pay the €332 million ($392 million) it is contracted to pay for the 2021-22 season.
Under a deal that came into effect last season, Canal Plus has been sub-licensing from BeIN rights to two top fixtures per round from Ligue 1, in an agreement that is due to run to the end of the 2023-24 season.
However, Canal Plus has threatened to stop showing these games, and cease the payments, after the LFP, the French professional league, recently awarded the rights to the other eight matches per round to internet giant Amazon, in a three-year deal worth €260 million per season.
The rights to the eight games were previously held by Spanish media company Mediapro in a four-year deal worth €780 million per annum that was terminated, after just a few months, in December 2020.
While BeIN and Canal Plus are allied against the LFP in a lawsuit that is pending in a Paris court over the rights sales process, the Qatari broadcaster wants its partner to honour the existing contract.
Canal Plus is reported to have informed BeIN on Tuesday that it was suspending the arrangement.
It is understood that an initial payment of €500,000 for the upcoming season has not been paid.
In its appeal to the commercial court, BeIN has asked for emergency proceedings to force Canal Plus to respect the sub-licensing deal, and the court has granted an authorisation so the latter will be summoned to proceedings next Tuesday, with a decision expected by the end of the week.
BeIN confirmed the authorisation from the court, but has declined to comment further.
The broadcaster retains rights to two top matches per week from Ligue 2, but while it wants to review the valuation of its €30-million-per-year deal after Amazon was awarded rights to the other eight games, for €9 million per annum, is presently honouring payments.
Earlier this week, a representative of French president Emmanuel Macron urged Canal Plus and BeIN to respect their contractual commitments.
In their ongoing legal action against the LFP, rights holders Canal Plus, BeIN and Free, the French telecoms company, are challenging the league’s rights sales process, claiming that, with the award to Amazon, it is treating packages of rights differently.
Last season, the LFP re-tendered the 80 per cent of Ligue 1 and 2 matches held by Mediapro after rejecting Canal Plus' proposal to include the two top-flight matches each week that the broadcaster sub-licensed from BeIN.
Both Canal Plus and BeIN argued Mediapro's actions had devalued the domestic rights, and all lots should have been re-tendered.
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.