Football: France sells TV rights for $1.25 billion

PARIS (AFP) - France's top football league sold domestic television rights for 2016-20 for a record sum of nearly one billion dollars a year, officials said Friday.

The new deal saw Ligue 1 sold for 726 million euros (S$1.25 billion) a year and the second division for 22 million euros a year.

The Canal Plus cable television broadcaster made the biggest offer to secure the right to the first choice of the two best Ligue 1 matches each week.

The previous record for 2008-2012 sold for 668 million euros a year while this season and next the figure falls to 607 million euros.

But with Qatari and Russian investors now ploughing huge sums into Ligue 1 clubs - allowing Paris Saint Germain to buy Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Monaco Radamel Falcao for a combined figure over 120 million euros - the French Professional League (LFP) had hoped for more.

"I had wanted to put the French championship in the top three in Europe," said LFP president Frederic Thieriez, who added that the figure was below but close to what the league had sought.

"I would have liked more because I have big ambitions for French football, but the market has spoken," he added.

BeIn Sports, a Qatari-backed cable broadcaster, was the second highest bidder. None of the other competitors, such as Eurosport or telecoms firm Orange, won any television rights.

The auction put France in fourth place in the European television rights league - ahead of Germany (675m euros), but behind Spain (750m), Italy (960m) and especially England's Premier League, which earns a massive 1.7 billion euros a year.

The LFP had set a reserve price above the 726 million euros announced, but it was not immediately revealed how much they wanted.

Thiriez said only that the offers by Canal Plus and BeIn Sport were "very close" with tens of millions of euros between them.

According to sources close to negotiations, Canal Plus will increase payments from their current 420 million euros a year to about 550 million.

BeIn has been paying about 150 million euros a year. Its new deal was not revealed.

BeIn could be saving its financial power for bids to UEFA, Europe's governing body, for the 2015-2018 rights to the Champions League, which have to be handed in on Monday, analysts said.

Despite the arrival of the Qatar Investment Authority to bankroll PSG and Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev at Monaco, French clubs say they face growing financial difficulties as they battle to pay top salaries to help them compete in Europe.

While PSG are close to qualifying for the semi-finals of Europe's Champions League, other clubs are deep in debt.

The French government has put football stars in the group that will have to pay a 75 per cent tax on the highest salaries. The French league estimates this will cost clubs 44 million euros a year.

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