Can Neymar Score a $1.4 Billion Payout for French Soccer?
Neymar is showing he’s worth at least some of the record 222 million euros ($264 million) his new French soccer club paid for him.
Paris Saint-Germain is unbeaten this season with help from the 25-year-old Brazilian star’s goals and assists. It even humbled the mighty Bayern Munich last week in Europe’s top competition, the Champions League, which is broadcast worldwide.
But now everyone wants in. As PSG’s Qatari owners try to build a global sports brand, the French soccer league is eager to make sure it gets a boost from the buzz around the world’s most expensive player by locking in television companies with a new rights deal.
The plan was to start the bidding next year. Competition between incumbents Vivendi SA’s Canal Plus and Qatar’s beIn Sports along with Altice NV, France’s second-largest telecoms company, means the league might hold an auction as soon as next month, according to people familiar with the matter. The price to beam games into French living rooms and bars and onto mobile phones will rise to as much as 1.2 billion euros a season, the people said. The rights contract is currently worth 750 million euros each year.
“This is the moment for the league,” said Virgile Caillet, general delegate of the Sport & Cycle Union, a federation of sport businesses. “All the stars are aligned with strong competition between broadcasters on the demand side and a product that has never been so attractive on the offer side.”
No French club has ever had the kind of money to go global and few have ever really rivaled bigger, more established European giants on the field, let alone in the lucrative merchandise markets in the Far East.
As well as the French domestic rights, it’s likely the contract to show top-flight Ligue 1 games abroad will also come up in negotiations, said Caillet. BeIn Sports, which has deals in places like Thailand and Malaysia, currently holds the international rights until 2024, though only paid 80 million euros a year for them.
“Neymar is going to serve as a flag bearer,” said Christophe Lepetit, head of economic research at CDES, the center for sports law and economy at the University of Limoges. “It will make it possible for the French championship to become known abroad, especially in countries like China or India.”
The recruitment of the star in August was the biggest statement of intent by PSG to upend the old order. Neymar was snatched from Barcelona, which won the Champions League four times in the past 12 years, after the Paris club used the Qatar Sports Investments’s wealth to pay the release clause in his contract. Including salary and taxes over five years, Neymar will cost about 500 million euros, normally more than what you’d pay for an entire team in France.
The French Professional League, or LFP, declined to comment on any new TV deal. In a statement on Sept. 6, it said it welcomed the fact that, thanks to PSG, French clubs spent four times more money on players in the summer compared with 2016. “It helps improve the spectacle of Ligue 1,” it said.
It fits in with the league’s strategic plan, unveiled in April, to bridge the gap with the four other European soccer leagues on sports economy and branding. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.
Off the pitch, the expected jump in the cost of French broadcasting rights reflects the rampant inflation in soccer as much as the Neymar effect. The English Premier League got the equivalent of more than 4 billion euros from domestic and foreign media revenue for last season alone, according to data compiled by research company Sport Business.
“Le foot” doesn’t inflame the passions in France as it does in neighboring Spain, while international broadcasting rights are a fraction of the English league.
At the stadiums, there are often rows of empty seats. The 20 teams in France’s top division attract an average crowd of about 22,000 for a game, only marginally above the second tier of English soccer. Until PSG started importing talent, French clubs were known more for selling on their best players to the bigger leagues.
On the pitch, breaking into the continental elite doesn’t come cheap or easy.
Chelsea was the original team funded by a billionaire benefactor’s check-book after Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought the London club in 2003. It won the Champions League for the first and only time nine years later. Manchester City, acquired by Abu Dhabi investors in 2008, hasn’t made it to a final of the Champions League.
But as the slogan daubed in white letters on PSG’s stadium goes: “Rêvons Plus Grand” -- “Dream bigger.”
— With assistance by David Hellier