Football: a Ligue 1 with 18 clubs, in an emergency and without much debate



The season of fear is coming soon. For the 2022-2023 season to be exact, at the end of which four Ligue 1 clubs will tumble into Ligue 2 (against two or three today). The Professional Football League (LFP) decided on the dark cup Thursday, June 3, with club presidents voting almost unanimously to reduce the elite from 20 to 18 clubs. Thrown into the crisis by the imbroglio on television rights with the withdrawal of the main broadcaster Mediapro and the loss of more than 500 million euros this year, and at the same time victims of health constraints, the leaders of French football are counting on a double bonus.

Europe in the crosshairs

“As resources are less, they first reduce the number of shares to share the cake, while hoping to produce a competitive shock: fewer clubs, therefore more talent in those that remain, and a more attractive championship which should generate more broadcasting rights, explains Jean-Pascal Gayant, professor of economics at the University of Le Mans. On a more sporting level, Ligue 1 with fewer matches will also make it possible to be more in line with the busier European calendar because of the reform of the Champions League to 36 teams in 2024. And French clubs will also be more performers in the Europa League, a competition that they too often abandon compared to their foreign counterparts. “

Between the 1997-1998 and 2001-2002 season, the French championship had already been reduced to 18, crowning five different champions during these five years (Lens, Bordeaux, Monaco, Nantes and Lyon). At the same time, Marseille had reached the final of the Europa League (defeat against Parma in 1999), Lens the last four of this competition (in 2000) and Monaco the semi-final of the Champions League (in 1998). The good example? “At the time, the return to twenty clubs was far from unanimous, and since then, many leaders, especially in the big clubs, campaigned for a tightening, underlines Jérémie Bastien, sports economist at the University of Reims-Champagne Ardenne. They therefore took advantage of the crisis this time to take the decision. “

However, some voices are raised to contest this choice. In the elite, only the president of Metz voted against. In Ligue 2, skepticism is more widespread. Like the general manager of Grenoble, Max Marty, speaking in the Dauphiné : “20 clubs, this offers proximity, it allows football to stay in its rurality, its territories, especially in terms of training. We must pay attention to the globalization of French football. “ It is true that at a time when twelve of the richest clubs on the planet have suffered an outcry in their project for a European closed Super League, the French decision to tighten the elite may seem to be wrong.

Tomorrow, an elite with 16 clubs?

The supporters, extremely mobilized against the Super League, and undoubtedly decisive for its abandonment, will they accept without barguigner a Ligue 1 to 18? “Against the Super League, the supporters’ associations had been mobilized for a long time and were able very quickly to find relays to assert their rejection. Conversely, the League at 18 is not a subject on which they are positioned, indicates the sociologist Nicolas Hourcade, specialist in supporterism. But the fact that they were not consulted either shows that this choice was made in an emergency, without any real debate on the future of French football. “

A regret shared by Jean-Pascal Gayant, especially since the case is not closed. “Some are already talking about an evolution towards 16 clubs, assures the economist. And the reduction of Ligue 2 also to 18 clubs is not clear. Faced with such changes, we must ask questions about a possible professionalization of a third division, also think about limiting the number of clubs, the duration of contracts, salaries too, and therefore think about retraining, etc. The clubs are still struggling to develop a long-term vision, yet essential. “

A difficult reflection to hold in an uncertain context and still suspended from negotiations on television rights for next season (read opposite). “Everything will also depend on their level and their progress, judge Jérémie Bastien. If they continue to rise, even modestly, the possibility of an elite with 16 clubs, already socially and culturally difficult to pass, should be ruled out. “ The French football revolution has only just begun.

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Persistent blur on television rights

Until 2023-2024, it is for next season that the vagueness is still in order on the question of television rights. In the absence of an agreement, the clubs still cannot establish provisional budgets. Canal + appears as the essential broadcaster. The encrypted channel favors the scenario of sharing with BeIN Sports, Canal + reserving two posters per weekend, BeIN launching a channel with the other matches.

But in this hypothesis, and by adding the mobile rights granted to Free, the LFP should be satisfied with just over 500 million euros in revenue, against 1.2 billion expected with the previous Mediapro contract finally canceled and at the origin of the current crisis. The LFP refuses for the moment to deal with less than 600 million euros fixed per season, more possible bonuses. The standoff continues.

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