COVID CONSEQUENCES: IS FRENCH FOOTBALL ON THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE OR CAN TALENT SAVE THE DAY?
In a frantic year in which the entire global market of sport has wallowed, many of French football's larger clubs are suffering more than most.
The cancelation of French football earlier in 2020 has led to massive financial losses to clubs who relied heavily on ticket and merchandise sales from each match due to low commercial earnings.
Despite the new season starting with a limit of 1000 fans in attendance for each game, clubs in both Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 are expected to lose up to £125 million in ticketing revenue and a subsequent £67 million in hospitality income.
The main issue however has come through the collapse of the MediaPro TV deal that was set to bring in a large financial lifejacket to many of the clubs already suffering in 2018, when the deal was made.
The Spanish TV giants along with Bien Sports were set to pay Ligue 1 clubs 3.45 billion euros over the course of four seasons. But after just four months, MediaPro were struggling to keep their payments up.
The deal in its formative days was seen as “a blessed day in French football”, by Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas.
However, there were others that were far more sceptical of the takeover. A similar situation had happened in the Italian Serie A, involving MediaPro once again. They had not offered the league financial guarantees and subsequently the deal fell through. Gaetano Micciche, the President of Serie A at the time, calling the terms “unacceptable”.
But as far as anyone was aware, LFP had not asked for the same guarantees and instead focused on the monetary mirage that was in front of them.
Whilst L’eqiupe reported that MediaPro were seeking a discount for the rest of the season due to COVID-19, others suggested that LFP were simply trying to find another company to take over the rights all together.
However regardless of the solution moving forward, the situation has arisen from a wash of naivety and ignorance from LFP and has left some clubs stranded.
However, whilst a new deal is being negotiated with likely candidates Canal Plus, clubs and the league itself are surviving off the back of two Government loans.
One issued due to the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 and the other after MediaPro’s second instalment failed back in October.
Reims President Jean-Pierre Caillot said earlier this month, “If the league cannot get a new loan, which is far from assured at this point, I think that in February or March, there will be a lot of clubs who will not be able to pay their players and employees. Because we often forget that a football club is not just 11 players.”
But whilst it may seem that French football is falling down a well of endless unsuccessful misery, there maybe be other solutions for clubs outside of TV rights and government bailouts.
Out of all Europe's top five leagues, there is arguably no country that produces more talent than the academies and footballing schools of France. Over the past 20 years it is has been the breeding ground for some of the world's best. Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, N’golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Ousmane Dembele, to name too just a few. It’s a mechanical conveyer belt, endlessly producing players that appeal to the richest of clubs across Europe.
This in turn, may be the short-term solution for many clubs. Whilst not all their players a destined to be sold for big money to England, Germany or Spain, the main buyers of young French players, there is certainly enough scope across the league in order to produce a small upturn in which to keep certain clubs afloat.
The likes of Eduardo Camavinga at Stade Rennais, Hassim Aouar at Lyon, Boubacar Kamara at Marseille, and both Benoit Badiashile and Axel Disasi at Monaco could all fetch a big transfer fee. Lille have sold Nicola Pepe, Gabriel and Victor Osimhen for over 150 million euros combined over the last year, which sets the example that other French clubs could follow.
Many of these clubs would more than willing to sell in order to keep their clubs afloat and with the inflated nature of the market juxtaposed to the financial cost of COVID-19, it may create a middle ground for foreign clubs to buy at a more desirable price range,
Whilst not necessarily the long-term vaccine for clubs, transfers in the short run would be able to maintain clubs through the coming months and summer whilst the new deal with Canal is being negotiated. For now, the lack of foresight from the LFP over the deal with MediaPro will be investigated and offer an example to the cost of these mistakes.