Paris (AFP)

After having recorded its divorce from Mediapro on Friday, French football awaits with hope and feverishness the return to power of its historic broadcaster Canal +, big winner of the TV rights crisis and favorite to buy the matches, probably with a strong discount.

Already the holder of the Ligue 1 poster on Saturday evening and that of Sunday afternoon each week, the encrypted channel is on the front line to expand its catalog, since the agreement reached on Friday by the Professional Football League and Mediapro, failing for two months, with a view to the withdrawal of the Sino-Spanish group.

For several weeks, the leaders of many clubs have not been hiding any more: the future broadcasting of French football must go through the Canal group.

If the exit of Mediapro has yet to be approved by the Nanterre Commercial Court in the coming days, this wish seems close to being granted: as soon as the conciliation is officially closed, Canal + will have the opportunity to formulate proposals to take over from the Téléfoot channel, according to several sources familiar with the matter.

"More than ever today, Canal + has a front row seat," confirms Arnaud Simon, consultant and former head of Eurosport France.

"They have every interest in recovering the rights to the amount they consider to be the right one, to block the market until 2024", the date of the end of the broadcast cycle, he continues.

- The payback -

This scenario, clear today, was however totally unthinkable two and a half years earlier.

Indeed, in the spring of 2018, Canal + had returned empty-handed from the call for tenders for the rights to Ligue 1 for 2020-2024, a huge disillusionment for the encrypted channel, a partner of French football since 1984.

The following months are those of reconstruction.

Without ever deviating from its argument, like what it will be "impossible" for Mediapro to make a profit at such an amount, the channel managed by Maxime Saada, a subsidiary of the Vivendi group controlled by Vincent Bolloré, is preparing its return.

In November 2019, she secured the two best posters of each day of the Champions League, the queen club competition in Europe, for the period 2021-2024.

And a few days later, she announced a surprise deal with beIN Sports.

At cost price (EUR 330 million per year), Canal + was sublicensed two L1 posters per day, and became the exclusive distributor in France of its former rival.

At the same time, the negotiations for the distribution of the future Mediapro channel will never be successful.

Worse, they will end up in court, with two cross summons filed this fall.

Final detail of a meticulous strategy: when Mediapro refuses to pay its October and December 2020 deadlines, Canal, he plays the good payer by honoring his drafts on time with beIN Sports, which then transfers the expected windfall to the League , according to a source familiar with the matter.

- "Coherent position" -

And here is Canal + and its ally beIN very close to signing a resounding revenge.

"If we look at the position of Canal + throughout the calls for tenders, their position is consistent. There is a price that they do not want to exceed, and they will not miss this opportunity to correct this market", says Pierre Maes, consultant and author of the book "Le business des droits TV du foot".

"The proportion of the correction is unknown today, and it is (Vincent) Bolloré who will decide. But he is a killer."

For French football, the risk lies in the price that Canal will want to offer ... If the group has been concerned by the negotiations in recent weeks before taking a step back in recent days, according to several experts in the matter, it does not 'is not interested in all of the matches and has not made a real offer, although some sources say it is less than € 600 million a year.

And the clubs are not fooled.

According to a Ligue 1 leader interviewed, the future contract will be, at best, 400 million euros lower than the previous contract, a record amount of 1.217 billion euros annually, L1 and L2 combined.

"Our objective is of course to help the rebirth of Ligue 1 (...) but the prices must not be above ground", declared on Wednesday Gérald Brice-Viret, director of the antennas of Canal +, on Europe 1.

The boss Maxime Saada had said in an interview with Les Echos at the end of October: there is "no question" of putting Canal + "in the red by reinvesting at a loss in football".

French football is warned.

© 2020 AFP