SUPPORTERS may have to wait a little longer for regular television coverage of games in France as the long-running quest for a broadcast deal continues.
Leading French officials are linking up with the RFL and strategic partners IMG to source a comprehensive TV contract that will cover matches in Toulouse and Perpignan plus, potentially, fixtures in the Elite One championship.
No deal is yet in place for 2023 but League Express understands the wheels are in motion as France gears up for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup, bringing an end to frustration for English fans who are unable to travel or watch their side playing live on TV in France.
Last season saw a near-blackout for Super league fixtures from Stade Ernest Wallon (Toulouse) and only limited live coverage from Stade Gilbert Brutus (Catalans) and the situation will continue this year.
Catalans Dragons have two home games scheduled for coverage so far on Sky Sports (Warrington April 8 and St Helens May 5) and the club is working on a deal to finance further coverage of specific games, as it did last season, but not all fixtures, as was the previous arrangement with Sky and beIN Sport prior to 2020. There are no plans as yet for Channel
Four to cover any games in Perpignan and Championship broadcasters Premier Sport have yet to announce any possible coverage from Toulouse.
Officials from Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique, plus a delegation from the French Federation, are part of a newly-formed RFL and IMG task group aimed at resolving the issue.
Toulouse Olympique Chief Executive Cedric Garcia is a member of the group and he said, “It is vital that our game is shown live on TV and every effort is being made to achieve this.
“It is essential for the future growth of any professional sport. If you’re not on TV you do not shine. It is a huge goal of ours and I am confident we now have the right people in place, working together, to ensure we will succeed.
“Catalans, the French Federation, IMG, the RFL and ourselves are all on the same page; we are a common force and nobody is trying to tackle the situation individually.
“This common strategy gives us more weight with broadcasters, especially with a World Cup on the horizon in 2025.
“This is obviously on the back of major initiatives by all of the stakeholders in the UK for future broadcasting of Super League and the Championship as a whole.
“There are sports on TV and other sports not on TV and there is a huge difference, not only in terms of money from a contract but also having the ability to attract more supporters, more young players, sponsors and investment.”
Garcia admits that the sports broadcasting market in France has become increasingly difficult to break into following mergers and deals between rival companies to cover football and rugby union.
He explained, “At the moment pretty much the only TV rights channel available is Canal Plus because beIN Sports are now under their umbrella since they did a deal over Ligue One football.
“After that you are down to L’Equipe and Eurosport, which are channels only interested in individual games or events, not coverage of an entire Championship, and they often only pay for production costs so there is no direct revenue to the sport.
“Canal Plus is in a monopoly position and that is a big issue for us. It’s difficult to negotiate with just one broadcaster, much easier when there are two or three to work with and compete for the best possible deal.
“Also Canal Plus has invested very heavily in rugby union, so it’s difficult to find a way in. The market is the most difficult it has ever been and if we go in as individuals, we do not stand a chance.
“The good news is that now we have unity with all parties, the RFL, IMG, FFRXIII and the clubs and we have a real chance.
“We’re not there yet, and it is important that we have no boundaries in our plans because the market is evolving very quickly.
“To have all of our forces driving together in the same direction is the key.”
Garcia says that Rugby League has to look at all options for broadcasting, including live streaming of matches online.
He added, “It is important that we have no boundaries in our plans because the market is evolving very quickly.
“You need to have professionals who follow the market, who know about the latest evolutions so we can get on board and I believe that IMG are the right people for this. It is their main field of activity and they are very good at it.
“In French Elite One there are some really good initiatives with clubs streaming matches on YouTube or Facebook but this is all individually coordinated.
“The future has to be a single approach from the entire game to a broadcaster; we need to get everything together and work as one.”
Toulouse’s opening Championship game away to Barrow Raiders has been selected for live coverage by the RFL’s Our League App.
Garcia said, “It’s fantastic news and we will help Barrow to promote it here in France; we are contacting some bars and restaurants in Toulouse to organise gatherings of supporters to watch the match together.
“Coverage of any kind is always good for French supporters and, with it being our first game of the season, we are pleased they picked us.
“There are sports on TV and other sports not on TV and there is a huge difference, not only in terms of money from a contract but also having the ability to attract more supporters, more young players, sponsors and investment.
“We cannot move forward without it.”
This article comes from this week’s issue of League Express. You can take out a subscription by going to https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/