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Is the new formula really good news for French football?

Do you remember Antoine Griezmann’s murderous return to Gerland with Real Sociedad in 2014? From the fall of FC Metz against “pinpins” from Finland in 1999? From the knockdown inflicted on Toulouse by Liverpool in 2007? So many moments that made the cottages cry and relaunched the famous song about the competitiveness of French football in the jukebox. Well, all this misfortune will soon be ancient history.

From 2024, thanks to the reform of the Champions League decided on Tuesday by UEFA, there will no longer be a preliminary round for the representative of the country which is fifth in the UEFA index. And who is there now? France, of course. Three French clubs directly poured into the main draw of 36 teams, champagne at home, small toasts and Marseillaise. Better, a fourth club could also integrate the final table if the performance of the tricolor teams engaged in Europe over a season is extraordinary.

“It’s an interesting format that needs to be pushed”

“French clubs are extremely interested in this new format,” acknowledged Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA’s big boss, in an interview with the newspaper. The Team, Wednesday. It must be said that, for those who will have the chance to participate in this new-look C1, their eyes are already sparkling: eight matches minimum (instead of six today) – including four at home – possible clashes against big displacements and the possibility of qualifying without too much difficulty (only 8 teams directly eliminated).

“This formula is good, rejoiced Jean-Michel Aulas, the president of Lyon, in The Parisian. It’s an interesting format that needs to be pushed. OL, if they participate, can meet any of the 35 other qualified teams. Everything is possible in this new format. Especially to raise money. Because, yes, if UEFA has laid this new formula, it is surely not for love of the Luan Peres-Ghezzal duels, but above all to break the piggy bank, especially at the level of the famous TV rights.

The hen with the golden eggs, really?

Awarded at the start of the year, TV rights for the 2024-2027 period have exploded and increased by 50% compared to 2018-2019, according to the Sportune site, to reach fifteen billion euros in three years. Add to that the bonuses for wins (2.8 million) or draws in the pool (€930,000), in addition to the 15.6 million just for having participated in the group stage and the 9.6 million for qualifying in the eighth , plus box office receipts, and French clubs will roll in gold.

“It’s very positive given how the TV rights weigh on the budget of the clubs participating in this competition, assures Florent Bergmann, in charge of studies at the Center for Sports Law and Economics. There is a kind of dependence on the financial windfall that the Champions League brings. We can see a bit of what is happening in Lyon after two years without qualifying for C1, shareholders leaving, colossal losses… For the rest, it will perhaps lead, at the French level, to separate the clubs and always favor the same to participation in the Champions League. »

Inequalities are widening

An inequality accentuated by the future transfer by the CVC fund, holder of 15% of the commercial subsidiary of the LFP. PSG will receive 200 million euros, OL and OM 90, Nice, Rennes, Lille and Monaco 80 and the other clubs 33. And they will therefore have more resources to achieve results in the Champions League, which will be extremely profitable. “Will this allow French football to move up the European hierarchy a little? Not sure, answers Jean-Pascal Gayant, professor at the University of Le Mans, author of Economics of Sport (ed. Dunot). I’m not convinced that the new format changes things. »

“The financial windfall provided by CVC can help but, it’s like the aid deployed during the Covid-19, it has been very beneficial, it has made it possible to pay off the debts, but it masks the structural problems which are those of the clubs. French”, resumes Florent Bergmann.

This is a position assumed by Vincent Labrune, the president of the LFP, adds Gayant. He observes that we are underperforming in the European Cup, that we cannot have international rights for this reason, that we do not have a major known franchise like PSG. . So we will concentrate resources on a small group of locomotives. These additional resources will allow them to perform well in the European Cup, which offers notoriety, desirability… But this reasoning is based on the accentuation of the inequalities of means and forces present. »

The TV rights of the national championships down?

Another problem that can happen with this new C1 format is a decline in the amount of TV rights in France. Already damaged by the judgment of Mediapro, the clubs of France do not want a second blade. “We can trust UEFA to see the rights of the C1 increase further,” says the CDES researcher. But it can compete with national leagues. The C1 TV rights that will have been created at that time can attract investors who, behind them, will not have sufficient financial manna to be able to invest in local or national TV rights. »

And to cite the example of England: “The renegotiation of TV rights did not have the same impact in terms of variation as the previous contract. Perhaps we are coming to the start of a slowdown in England. “The building remains very unstable and I do not really believe in the sustainability of this 36-team format and the wonderful benefits for French football,” concludes Jean-Pascal Gayant dryly. Nasser Al-Khelaïfi will have to get back to work on a new formula.

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