(Adds Canal Plus statement, background, byline)
By Mathieu Rosemain
PARIS, Aug 5 (Reuters) – Vivendi’s pay-TV unit Canal Plus said on Thursday a court ordered it to honor a 332 million-euro ($393 million) yearly contract with Qatari-owned beIN Sports to produce and broadcast some of France’s Ligue 1 soccer matches.
Canal Plus faces a penalty of 1 million euros per day if it does not respect the ruling, two sources close to the matter said.
The pay-TV provider said in a statement it regretted ending up in an “unfair” situation due to the way France’s professional league LFP handled TV rights auctions. It said it would appeal the decision, which is unlikely to end the crisis France’s top soccer clubs have plunged into since late 2020.
France’s soccer world has been in turmoil ever since cash-strapped Spanish broadcasting group Mediapro failed to pay the costly TV rights it had won in 2018 to broadcast about 80% of French national soccer championship matches in 2020-2024.
Mediapro’s sudden withdrawal compelled LFP to re-tender the TV rights. Amazon.com Inc won about 80% of the rights in June for 250 million-euro per season, half a billion euros less than what Mediapro had agreed to pay.
The steep discount infuriated Canal Plus, which said it would stop showing top division French soccer games because prior to Mediapro’s withdrawal, Vivendi and the unit had agreed to pay 332 million euros per season for about 20% of the Ligue 1 matches.
At stake are the finances of France’s soccer clubs and the conditions under which of the first matches of the championship will be broadcast.
French newspaper L’Equipe reported that Canal Plus would indeed broadcast the matches scheduled in two days, which will mark the start of this year’s Ligue 1 season.
($1 = 0.8448 euros) (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain Editing by GV De Clercq and Richard Chang)