The French television rights paradox

By Aris Barkas/ [email protected]

It’s crazy if you think about it. France won the silver Olympic medal in basketball, has two EuroLeague teams, arguably the best line-up in their domestic championship in years, and no national television deal.

Yes, if you live in France and you want to see basketball, your main option on television is the NBA. That’s not bad at all. After all, France for years has produced top NBA talent, and why on earth you wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, and recently voted in his country basketball player of the year Nicolas Batum.

On the other hand, you can watch some of the LNB games on the “Sport en France” network, created by the French National Olympic and Sports Committee to give exposure to amateurs sports, as the domestic league is trying to maintain its exposure on television. On top of that, the EuroLeague games of Monaco in the “Monaco Info TV”, the public television of the Principality of Monaco, with former player Ali Traore making his debut as a television commentator, a role in which he is expected to thrive.

So there are some options, but not what you would expect from a country that has a long basketball tradition, a glorious present, and a bright future in the sport.

Former player and longtime commentator Jacques Monclar gave his opinion on the matter and as usual, he wasn’t shy about his choice of words while being exactly on the point.

But why this is happening? Doesn’t France have an audience for basketball outside the NBA?

There’s no simple answer to that question and of course, there’s an audience. However, European basketball is clearly not a priority for the main players of the television market in France, which is recovering from the MediaPro fiasco.

To make a long and complicated story short, the football league’s rights (LFP) were sold for the record price of €1.2 billion a season to MediaPro starting from the 2020-21 season. However, the deal was voided in December 2020 with MediaPro failing to make payments due to COVID.

The rights are now divided between Canal+ and Amazon in almost half their original €1.2 billion prices, with Canal+ not really wanting any partnership with Amazon and the other big player of the market, BeIN Sport getting a portion of the second division games.

With the French market being in such turmoil, basketball became just an afterthought. Clearly, there’s no comparison with football in popularity, but there’s a solid audience that wants to watch and there are encouraging numbers.

EuroLeague decided to not underprice the value of their television rights – which are already low compared to football with the top local deals in Europe being valued at around €10 million per season – and use EuroLeague TV as their main vehicle in France. While there are no official numbers, according to Eurohoops sources there’s already a 700% rise in subscribers from France in the EuroLeague TV service, which pushed the total rise of subscribers up 120% compared to last year.

Without a television deal in place but with two EuroLeague teams in France, the league has decided to keep full control of their television product and not just take any deal while trying to find ways to gain the desirable promotion and exposure. It’s an experiment dictated by necessity that will be conducted also in the US, where the EuroLeague is not satisfied with the way the league was promoted in their previous deals with ESPN and FloSports.

And that also signals the expansion of the EuroLeague TV service which will be soon available on Smart TV.

It’s going to be a bumpy road in France, there’s no doubt about this. Still, it’s absurd to think that basketball has not a place as a marquee television program.

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