The lights will go out on TV coverage of Super League in Perpignan next year unless an unlikely last-minute deal can be struck with French broadcasters.
Catalans Dragons are preparing for a season without live broadcasts from Stade Gilbert Brutus following a decision in August by beIN Sports not to renew their coverage in 2020 under their current arrangements.
Sky Sports viewers in the UK have seen all live Catalans home games since beIN first started their coverage in 2012, but the Qatar-based TV sports channel has just invested a billion euros in a new deal to cover Champions League football and it seems Rugby League has been squeezed out of their future plans.
Dragons officials are desperate to find a new broadcast partner, but it seems likely that 2020 will go ahead without coverage.
“That is the short-term reality,” Catalans’ Sales Director Christophe Levy told League Express, adding: “But long term I don’t like the idea of not being televised, as we are proud of our TV audience in France. We are putting lots of effort into promoting our club and sport with influential people in Paris and to have no TV deal in the future is a nonsense.
“We are still talking to beIN but they have made it clear that any deal will cost big money to the club, so that is a major call for the club and its directors to make.”
Levy explained that beIN would continue to cover games if matchday production costs of up to 20,000 euros per game were met by the club.
He added: “It is hard to accept to pay the equivalent of two overseas players’ salaries into a TV deal just to be allowed to be on television.
“When you add the enormous travel costs to go to the UK 15 times a year, we need a strong increase in the club’s budget to afford all of this.
“We are also talking to two other national TV companies but it is the same story, we will have to pay to be on television.
“We will do our best commercially to make this viable, but it won’t happen in 2020. We already have a strong commercial budget, but for this to be viable we will need French national brands to become involved with the Dragons in Super League.
“We are working on it, but it will take time.”
Sky Sports does not broadcast in France, but they paid beIN directly for their footage from Perpignan, to which Sky add English commentary from their London offices. It remains to be seen whether Sky budgets will broadcast occasional home coverage of the Dragons as the season progresses.
A Super League spokesman told League Express: “We are continuing to work with the Dragons to exhaust all possible avenues, but there is nothing in place at the moment.
“We will continue to speak to Sky Sports on their plans to cover any games from Perpignan and Toronto.”
Catalans President Bernard Guasch told local media: “A year without TV coverage, I’m curious to see what it would look like.”
Levy said the club was taking a positive approach to the situation: “It’s possible that the lack of coverage will have a positive effect on attendances, at least for one season. After that maybe not,” he said.
“There are hundreds of supporters from Carcassonne, Lézignan, Toulouse, Avignon etc who ten years ago attended every home game in Perpignan.
“Since the coverage started these people have only been attending once or twice a year for the big games, choosing instead to stay at home and watch on television with their friends.
“We are also hoping that the signature of James Maloney will encourage more fans to attend, but the most important thing for us is to start winning games both home and away, which will help increase sponsorship and attendances.”
Levy said the club was making efforts to improve the matchday experience at the Brutus and was conscious of the addition of Toronto Wolfpack to Super League having an impact on the number of away fans travelling to Perpignan. Two overseas trips in one season may prove too expensive for UK-based supporters.
He added: “Yes, but that’s how it is. Canada and maybe in the future Toulouse will also have an impact on our away support from the UK, but we are also confident in our advantages and the long-term relationship we have with the UK fans.
“They know what they get when they spend two or three days down here – the sun and sea and great game-day experience and this will not change.
“We are working on more bars for food and drink plus more live music, especially in the summer months, and not just on match days. We are also going to open a new restaurant at the stadium, which will be open every day of the year.
“The double-header fixture in Toulouse (versus Leeds on May 30th) will be a big highlight of 2020 and while it might not have the impact of our game in Barcelona last season it will be maybe more important for the game of Rugby League in France.”
Levy said changes are being made to the open-air box at the rear of the Puig Aubert Stand, which saw crowd trouble last season during a match against Warrington Wolves.
“We will put higher window glass all around the box to avoid physical contact and increase the security around this area,” he said.
“We are also planning a giant barbecue in town between Catalans and Warrington supporters before the game. We have always had a great relationship with the Warrington club and their fans and we’re very keen to see this continue.”
Catalans are also working with local government in Perpignan on the provision of a new stand at the Brutus stadium, which would increase capacity at the ground from the current maximum of 13,000.
Plans to replace the current Guasch Laborde Stand with a brand new facility containing more seating, 20 corporate boxes and two hospitality lounges, are at an advanced stage and work on the project should begin at the end of next season.
© League Express (Mon 9th Dec 2019)