It’s been ages that Ligue 1, which resumes this Wednesday, January 6, had not offered such uncertainty. Four teams can still claim to take the lead in mid-season, next weekend: Lille, Lyon, PSG and Rennes. But behind the scenes, the atmosphere is very different. The other race that occupies the minds is stingy with contenders for victory: the reallocation of television rights for the French championships, recovered by the Professional Football League (LFP) after negotiation and withdrawal of the former broadcaster Mediapro, seems promised to Canal + .
“Canal + is essential, because it is today the only player capable of quickly mobilizing the means of production and broadcasting of the championship, assures economist Jérémie Bastien, lecturer at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne. We are also talking about the big digital players like Amazon, which certainly represent the future, but for the moment, they have only acquired ancillary rights in various markets, in order to gain experience. They will gradually gain in strength, but are not yet ready to embark on the management of the rights of a Ligue 1 in its entirety. “
Canal + therefore appears to be the “savior”, but it remains to be seen at what price. With the Mediapro contract (830 million euros per year for 80% of Ligue 1 and 2), French football was to collect a total of more than 1.1 billion euros per year from 2020 to 2024. The cards are fully reshuffled, the amount of rights will obviously fall, the directors of Canal + evoking in mid-December 590 million euros, plus 100 million euros of possible bonuses. Will French football have to cash an annual loss of nearly 500 million euros compared to its forecasts?
“The situation is really catastrophic because it occurs in an already very complicated Covid context, comments Jean-Pascal Gayant, economist and professor at Le Mans University. Ticket sales are non-existent because of the closed door. The transfer market is sluggish and is expected to decline, earning tricolor clubs between 300 and 400 million euros against 700 million previously. The LFP is indebted, and is therefore unable to seek new loans. The main difficulty is therefore to spend the next six months. And the urgency is to reduce the wage bill. “
In fact, now is the time to negotiate lower wages (read below). But is this a bad patch for French football, or a collapse of the current system? For Wladimir Andreff, professor emeritus at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and president of the scientific council of the Observatory of the economy of sport, the answer is clear: “TV rights could not go up to the sky, and this is what the Mediapro case highlights. It shows that football in France, but more widely in Europe, can no longer function as before. The reduction in TV rights has also started in Germany and is expected in England. The bubble is deflating. “
For the eminent economist, the fear of a downgrading of French football is not the subject: “We fear the departure to other championships of stars like Neymar? But which European club is capable today of spending astronomical sums for its transfer? No. Everything will adapt downwards, and across the continent. “
Jérémie Bastien, for his part, is more skeptical about this great upheaval. “It would indeed be desirable that we put an end to too high salaries, structural debt or the intervention of pension funds and billionaires who pay clubs. But I am not sure that the only defect of Mediapro in France is enough to undermine this whole system which has been operating in this way since the 1980s. We can regret the remote dependence of French football, but it should also be noted that paradoxically, its survival depends indeed a commitment from Canal +! “
The shaking of the system, for Jean-Paul Gayant, can however have another consequence: “The current crisis underlines the gap which is widening between large and small clubs, and reinforces those which militate for a closed European super league, reserved for twenty rich clubs and competitor of the current European cups and national leagues. In this context, France would be well inspired to position itself very quickly by being the first to raise the level of its Ligue 1, reduced to 18 or 16 clubs. “ Beyond the negotiations with Canal +, the promise of many other puzzles.