The next contract for the TV rights to Ligue 1 in France could see live coverage of the football championship on free-to-air TV for the first time - and possibly on a channel operated by the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) itself. The LFP launched the tender for the next TV contract, running from 2012/13 to 2015/6, on Friday.
The current rights holders are Canal Plus (paying €460m a season) and France Telecom (paying €208m). France Telecom has already said it will not renew its deal and is looking to unload a 50 per cent stake in its Orange Sport pay TV channel. Canal Plus has indicated that it would like to reduce its payments, but runs the risk of allowing new competitors an entry to the French pay TV market if it fails to work the LPF's tender to its advantage
The LFP advertised the rights in nine packages (or 'Lots') - compared to 12 Lots in the current contract. New kick-off times for televised matches will be added to the league programme at 9pm on Friday at 5pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday.
Lots 1 to 4 will comprise 19 matches, with the owner of Lot 1 having the first choice of 10 matches played over the three match days. Lot 5 will comprise 38 matches, with a first choice of 16. Lot 6, while not billed as a ‘premium' package by the LFP, will include coverage of every match, including six live matches each week and the key Saturday evening matches at 7pm and 9pm, as well as the 5pm Sunday match.
Lot 7, the ‘lot Nomade' will give access to live and on demand 'magazines' via mobile phones and tablets, while Lots 8 and 9 offer time-delayed matches and highlights on demand.
Interested parties have until 20 June to submit their bids. The LFP board will decide on the award of rights at its meeting on 24 June.
The LFP has set a reserve price on the six main packages amounting to €600m a season. Rights to each package will go to the highest bid above the reserve price, although if the LFP's overall income from rights is greater than €600m, rights to some packages could go to the highest bidder even if their offer is lower than the reserve price. Any rights the LFP cannot allocate will be retained and could be exploited on its planned pay TV channel, CFoot.
Other possible bidders include ESPN - which owns rights to the Premier League in the UK and was involved in the last round of bids for the Bundesliga in Germany. The LFP also appears hopeful that free-to-air broadcasters like TF1 or M6, or even a pay-per-view operation along the lines of Mediaset Premium could be enticed into bidding.
TF1 has, however, recently baulked at the high price of sports rights, sub-licensing rights to FIFA World Cup matches last year. It also has a contract for Champions League rights costing €31m a season. With a minium reserve price of €90m, the LFP's premium packages may be too expensive for a free-to-air broadcaster to monetise. Meanwhile any debutant to the French pay TV market would face a difficult battle to break even against the well-entrenched Canal Plus, which has broadcast Ligue 1 since 1984.
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