Canadian Soccer Business (CSB), the commercial arm of governing body Canada Soccer and the top-tier Canadian Premier League (CPL), has taken back broadcast rights to all of its properties from Mediapro Canada, an arm of the Spanish sports rights agency, amid a legal dispute.
Mediapro Canada holds exclusive global rights to the CPL, as well as the home games of the Canadian men’s and women’s national teams and the Canadian Championship, which involves all professional men’s teams in Canada, as part of a 10-year deal with CSB struck in 2019.
As well as live games, the package included weekly news and highlights shows, magazine shows, and additional exclusive original programming, which was all aired on Mediapro’s dedicated OneSoccer streaming platform launched after it gained the rights.
However, the parties are now headed to court, with CSB alleging Mediapro “failed to meet significant contractual obligations, including defaulting on the majority of its rights fees due for 2023 and failure to secure broader audiences for Canada’s national team, the Canadian Champions, and the CPL.”
A major sticking point of the dispute has been Mediapro’s inability to get Canada Soccer’s properties on mainstream media outlets other than Canadian telecoms firm Telus, with cable providers so far unwilling to host its OneSoccer platform on their services.
The organization stated: “Our decision to pursue legal action was not one we took lightly, but we felt it was necessary to protect the tremendous investments we have made to build the game in Canada.
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“By taking back full control of our rights we will immediately have the opportunity to do so with new partners who have the ability to reach larger audiences.”
However, responding to the allegations, Mediapro said: “Despite the huge passion Canadians have for soccer, it has become clear that CSB has been and will be unable to fulfill its side of our commercial agreement.
“We have made best efforts to work with the CSB on a constructive path forward but have come to a position where we have no choice but to seek to terminate our agreement.”
Mediapro Canada added that, to date, it had invested “more than $60 million to create an ecosystem for the Canadian game and its fans, including through new production facilities and capabilities, popular online communities, and the establishment of OneSoccer, a first-of-its-kind channel dedicated to Canadian soccer.
“We believe that no entity has invested more in Canadian soccer than Mediapro.”
The situation leaves Canadian Soccer with no domestic broadcast partner ahead of the Canadian women playing at the Concacaf W Gold Cup next month, while the Canadian men are due to play a Copa America playoff match on March 23. The sixth season of the CPL, meanwhile, kicks off on April 13.
However, CSB has said it is confident domestic viewers will still be able to access the games, adding: “We are aware of today's update and look forward to working with our partners to ensure that Canadian soccer fans are able to follow our national teams and the Canadian Championship.
“Our properties, our players, and our teams are premium sports content and we look forward to continue telling those stories nationally and well beyond our borders.”
At the time of its original deal, Mediapro said it would invest $200 million into the project throughout its contract, with CSB chief executive Scott Mitchell calling it “the single-largest commitment any company has ever made in terms of soccer in Canada.”
On top of rights, the deal saw Mediapro Canada produce all CPL matches, as well as Canadian national team games that fell under CSB’s jurisdiction.
The legal dispute comes at a crucial time for Mediapro, which saw its founding member Jaume Roures leave the company after almost 30 years last October, with reports stating he disagrees with parent company Southwind Media over the future direction of the company.
Hong Kong-based investment company Southwind holds an 85% stake in Mediapro, while UK advertising group WPP owns the remaining 5%.
Southwind increased its stake from 53% to 80% in July last year, through a wider Mediapro refinancing, with its owning company Orient Hontai having struck the initial deal to buy a slice of Mediapro in June 2018.
However, there have also been reports that Southwind is looking to sell its stake in the company, with deliberations at an early stage.