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French clubs calling for big money offers on TV rights deal

There could be long-term ramifications for the Irish provinces if the LNR attracts the money they are looking for.

Castres are the Top 14 holders after beating Toulon in last season's final.
Castres are the Top 14 holders after beating Toulon in last season's final.
Image: Jacques Brinon/AP/Press Association Images

THE LIGUE NATIONALE de Rugby [LNR] last night announced that they are calling on offers for the TV rights to the Top 14 from the 2015/16 season onwards, a move that may have long-term implications for Irish rugby.

The Top 14 is currently screened exclusively live on Canal+, who have been transmitting the French championship for the last 20 years. This season, the top flight clubs were compensated to the tune of €31.7 million by the TV station for the rights, but the LNR – who act on behalf of the professional clubs in France – have now decided that their product is far more valuable than that.

As such, the LNR has activated a ‘get-out’ clause in their current contract with Canal+ and has announced that they will open the market to rival channels for the rights to the Top 14 from 2015/16 up to, and including, the 2017/18 season.

The one genuine opponent to Canal+ is BeIn Sport, a Qatari-owned organisation that has also been attempting to muscle in on Ligue 1, French football’s top professional division. This announcement last night came as something of a shock, particularly given the reports yesterday morning that the LNR would agree a new deal with Canal+ worth €65 million a season.

Frighteningly for teams everywhere else in Europe, the LNR appear to believe that they can drive that figure up by engaging BeIn Sport and Canal+ in a bidding war. Incredible figures have been bandied about in recent months, with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal suggesting that the rights to screen the Top 14 could be worth up to €100 million per season.

Where do the Irish provinces come into this picture? Simply put, this new TV deal is going to provide the Top 14 clubs with even greater spending power than they already possess. Subsequently, that would mean higher wages on offer to the players they want to bring to France. If their targets include Irish players, the situation would be even more concerning for the IRFU than it presently is.

The hope would have to be that this move by the LNR backfires and BeIn Sport are unwilling to go beyond the already extreme €65 million that was reported as a possibility. Whatever happens, there will be a huge hike on the current €31.7 million TV rights deal for the Top 14 clubs.

What they will be able to do with that money injection in the next four years is a nerve-wracking thought.

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Murray Kinsella

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