French professional football has been thrown into chaos with the collapse of a bumper TV deal, which puts the future of some clubs at risk
It has not taken long for the ramifications of the collapse of Ligue 1’s bumper television deal with Mediapro to become apparent.
The Spanish media company bought the rights to show Ligue 1 from the current season onwards in 2018, promising €814 million (£728m/$984m) per year. It represented a bonus of more than 60 per cent on the previous deal but has proven too good to be true.
Mediapro, with whom Serie A pulled out on a similarly lucrative deal citing concerns over the company’s viability, has held back successive payments and their Telefoot broadcaster is on the brink of collapse, leaving professional clubs in France facing a dramatic shortfall.
If the fears are that the clubs towards the bottom of the professional food chain in France will suffer the greatest, with some even predicted to be wiped out entirely, the side to be affected first stands at the very top of the Ligue 1 table as Christmas approaches.
Lille, who inflicted a record home European defeat upon AC Milan earlier this season when they recorded a stunning 3-0 win at San Siro, have announced that they will be sold. Present owner Gerard Lopez proclaimed in a statement that it is time “for a change of business model”.
A winning formula, then, is to be dropped for one that is more profitable. This should send shock waves around every club in France. No team will be left untouched by the present crisis.
“When you don’t have any TV rights money, ticketing money or hospitality money, you’ll have to explain to me how we are supposed to keep our business running,” Reims president Jean-Pierre Caillot said.
“If the league can’t get a loan, which is far from assured at this point, I think that in February or March there will be a lot of clubs who will not be able to pay their players and employees, because we often forget that a football club is not just 11 players.”
Reports suggest that Nimes, for whom broadcast income totals around 70% of their revenue, are one of those clubs toiling.
Even mighty Paris Saint-Germain have reason to be concerned. While the money that PSG are set to lose from the failed deal is but a drop in the ocean for their wealthy Qatari owners – only 7% of their income came from television rights in the last published accounts – there are implications for the Parc des Princes side that stretch beyond the realms of their own Financial Fair Play concerns.
Instead, the very integrity of the league is on the line. If a club such as Lille are forced to change their model – business speak for slashing costs, which in footballing terms means selling their best players – then how is anyone supposed to meet PSG with meaningful domestic competition?
Admittedly, the project in France’s north has been on the rocks for several months. Luiz Campos, the genius sporting director behind Monaco’s title success of 2017 and Lille’s subsequent resurgence, has been on the way out since the summer. Only the formalities were to be completed, but it seems that the television crisis will end the project before he can leave it.
Meanwhile, Lyon’s slim hopes of keeping their most talented stars such as Houssem Aouar and Memphis Depay, who is out of contract in the summer, have been all but obliterated with this news.
Other clubs, such as Strasbourg and Lens, who broke their personal transfer records to sign Habib Diallo and Seko Fofana this summer from Strasbourg and Udinese, must now be left to ponder exactly how they propose to pay for deals costing €10m (£9m/$12m) and €8.5m (£8m/$10m) respectively.
Of course, none of this directly affects PSG. But it does indirectly.
Ligue 1 already has a credibility issue. The achievements of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are inevitably overshadowed by questions of the quality of opponent they find themselves up against. To the superstar pair’s detractors, their rivals are closer to ‘farmers’ than professional footballers.
Domestic dominance is presently taken for granted, though as Montpellier and Monaco have shown over the last decade, it is not yet inevitable. Lille, Lyon and Marseille all look like extending the interest in the Ligue 1 title race this season into the second half of the campaign.
If these clubs all lose their top performers over the coming 18 months – and none of them can be considered to be on a sure financial footing – who then will be left to touch PSG?
And that throws up an issue for the Parisians. If there is absolutely no competition, how can they expect to retain the likes of Mbappe and Neymar?
Arguably a more pressing point is how can they expect to attract new superstar talent?
Lionel Messi, for example, is a summer transfer target from Barcelona. One of his motivations for moving to the City of Lights is to prove himself in a league other than Spain. If Ligue 1 is further diminished, however, that will simply provide more ammunition for his critics.
This is not simply a crisis for French football’s impoverished clubs, this is a crisis for everyone – and the ramifications promise to be both significant and long lasting.