Didier Quillot would perhaps have liked his hearing at the Assembly not to be broadcast in clear. The former director general of the Professional Football League (LFP) was questioned this Thursday by the deputies, as part of a parliamentary mission on the TV rights of sport. The main theme revolved around the Mediapro sinking, chosen by the LFP in 2018 to broadcast Ligue 1 from 2020 to 2024, but which very quickly refused to pay. And unsurprisingly, Didier Quillot recalled that he was only a link in the chain that led French football
on the edge of the precipice.
A little refreshing break, time to review this action. After promising to settle a record amount – 780 million euros per year, the Sino-Spanish group had stopped its payments in October 2020, barely three months after the start of the championship. A futile mediation had followed, and the LFP had had to reallocate the rights in disaster to Canal +, all at a huge discount. In total, the Ligue 1 clubs, which expected 1.15 billion euros in revenue – including the amounts paid by BeIn and Free – for the 2020-2021 season will have received only half (650 million euros). euros). Enough to wreak havoc on already fragile budgets.
As managing director with executive power, Didier Quillot was at the forefront of the negotiation of TV rights. But this Thursday, the former leader of the LFP mainly used “we” rather than “I” to answer questions from deputies. And he sought to demonstrate that all the decisions of the body had been taken “with a lot of rationality”, and especially in a collective manner. “We were neither blinded nor reckless,” he summed up.
He first wanted to recall the “context” of the call for tenders built in 2018. To listen to him, the Ligue 1 championship had at the time “an additional intensity which increases [ait] the value of the product ”. A beautiful marketing jargon to say that several events – the arrival of Neymar at PSG (in the summer of 2017) and the coronation of Monaco the same year, in particular – would have given renewed interest to the French championship.
The “pressure” of the clubs
In addition, the other major European championships (England, Spain, Germany, Italy) all had TV rights close to or well above one billion euros per year. “There was very strong pressure from club presidents for the rights of French football to be revalued, therefore explained Didier Quillot. The mission was to reach this famous billion euros ”. The defense argument is therefore clearly displayed and assumed: the LFP would only have supported the clubs’ desire to win the jackpot.
After preparatory work, the LFP decides to set the minimum price (called “reserve”) for 2020-2024 TV rights at 965 million euros per year. A price “validated by the steering committee” of the League, recalled Didier Quillot. The regulations for the call for tenders are then submitted to the Competition Authority. To protect against default by a broadcaster, a “parent company guarantee” is provided and should make it possible to avoid a disaster scenario. “This is what the League has been asking for every call for tenders for more than twenty years” continued the former CEO.
An “impossible” guarantee… finally applied
But unlike the other calls for tenders, the 2018 one ended badly. Because when the LFP wanted to use the clause of the “parent company” to obtain the sums owed by Mediapro, it fell on the holding of the Spanish group, Joye Media. To put it another way, “it’s a bit as if Mediapro had stood surety for Mediapro. It was a paper guarantee! »Summarizes Pierre Maes, consultant specializing in TV rights, in an article from France Culture.
According to Didier Quillot, no other option could be considered. The most secure would have been the “bank guarantee on first demand”: this is when a bank agrees to block a sum corresponding to all or part of the TV rights, and undertakes to pay it without complaining in the event of default by the broadcaster. . “A guarantee between three and four billion euros [correspondant à la totalité du contrat] was strictly impossible, ”hammered the former DG. We have to believe that the Mediapro sinking was used for something, since the LFP finally included this clause in its last call for tenders for 2021 …
“There was no malfunction”
In the end, faced with very courteous and not very incisive deputies, Didier Quillot never seemed in difficulty. The members of the commission did not therefore question him on the Emmanuel Macron’s statement in September 2020. “We alerted the League. We knew that this contract [avec Mediapro] was fragile. I think that the people who negotiated it were not very serious, ”had tackled the President of the Republic. Didier Quillot retorted a few months later never having received an alert from the Elysee.
Titillated on the return of his bonus obtained after the 2018 call for tenders, the former DG of the LFP did not dismantle: “the contract was not executed, so it seemed normal to me to return it . It is absolutely not proof of anything. There was no dysfunction, but the one who supervised must take his share of solidarity ”. For responsibility, it will be later (or never).
Finally the ex-leader of French football conceded, of himself, a mini mea culpa : “Could we have done things differently? Yes, on one point. We could have foreseen in the regulation [de l’appel d’offres] the deposit of a deposit of 10 to 20% of the rights of the first year ”. Before adding immediately: “In my opinion, Mediapro would have paid [en 2018] “.