Paris (AFP)

The fragility of the Mediapro model has caught up with the Sino-Spanish group, the main broadcaster of Ligue 1, launched in a standoff with French football to renegotiate its TV rights.

A situation that sows doubt on its lasting establishment in France.

The Professional Football League (LFP) is undoubtedly paying today for not having listened to the many voices which had, as early as May 2018, pointed out the dangers that this record deal of more than 800 million euros per year could represent for Ligue 1, stressing the impossibility of making such an investment profitable.

Just listen to the visionary remarks of the boss of Canal + Maxime Saada, the day after the call for tenders lost by his channel, historic broadcaster of L1 for 34 years.

"It was impossible for us to bet these sums and I believe that it is impossible for any actor to bet these sums", he had summarized on Europe 1. "To make them profitable, it would take about 7 million d 'subscribers at 15 euros per month (...). I do not see how an actor can make that profitable. "

Words that take on a particularly acute meaning today.

- "They bet. They lost" -

According to Le Canard Enchaîné, the Sino-Spanish group, whose basic offer amounts to 25 euros per month, would have attracted only 278,000 subscribers after two months of competition.

"A figure far below what they had certainly expected," said a source familiar with the matter.

The fault, no doubt, of the Covid context, and these almost empty stages.

But not only.

It suffices to look at the case of BeIn sports: with a subscription of 15 euros per month, the Qatari group took 7 years to manage to glean a little more than 3 million subscribers in France, for a net loss of 1 , 4 billion euros according to Liberation.

“Mediapro, their initial model, was to buy the rights at a very high price and sell them at a profit, speculating on an increase in the market and competition in France. They bet, they lost”, summarizes Pierre Maes, consultant, and author of the book "Business of football TV rights".

From the start too, some had expressed doubts about the financial strength of the group, which is nearly 53% owned by a Chinese investment fund, Orient Hontai Capital.

Just before obtaining the rights to L1, the consortium, for lack of financial guarantees, was excluded from the race for TV rights in Italy.

The LFP had moreover accommodated itself to an absence of financial guarantee by contenting itself with a joint and several guarantee from its main shareholder.

A choice that today seems far too daring.

At the end of April, the financial rating agency Moody's downgraded the rating of the group's own holding company, Joye Media, to B3 against B1 previously, which corresponds to a "high risk" of non-repayment or delay in loan repayments. .

- "Industrial disaster" -

"There is a liquidity problem. We underestimate the importance of the fact that the initial economic model was not playable," said Arnaud Simon, former boss of Eurosport France, consultant in digital strategy.

"They found themselves forced to launch their channel (Téléfoot) on an untenable model and it ended in an industrial disaster."

And the international image of Mediapro could be permanently damaged: "what other country or even UEFA will give credit to a group that does that? None", analyzes Virgile Caillet, general delegate of Union Sport et Cycles.

Another consequence: which football fan will risk in the coming weeks or in the coming months to take a subscription to Téléfoot given the uncertainty generated by the attitude of the Sino-Spanish group?

"There are only losers in this case, except the new operator who risks recovering the rights if the clash continues," anticipates Virgile Caillet.

Moreover, if its standoff with the LFP comes to an end, Mediapro should undoubtedly "turn to potential program buyers" to try to resell the rights, a source familiar with the matter told AFP. that for the moment, a broadcaster like Canal + "has no interest in getting out of the woods".

According to this source, the Mediapro batch (8 L1 matches per day) does not interest Canal + as a whole, but must be broken down by taking into account the importance of each poster and the license agreements already made with BeIn, which had resold to Canal + its batch of two L1 posters per day.

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