Orange bids for French soccer

Telco challenges Canal Plus

PARIS — In a surprise move, France Telecom’s Orange has bid for all 12 rights packages of French soccer league rights over the 2008-12 seasons.

The move makes Orange the only company to challenge French paybox Canal Plus Group’s control of French TV soccer.

CPG has bid for 10 packages. Mobile phone operator SFR, owned by CPG parent Vivendi, has applied for mobile phone and video on demand packages.

Candidates have until Jan. 31 to attach figures to their proposals.

Launched Nov. 30 by the French Soccer League (FFL), France’s latest soccer tender has become a thorn in CPG’s side.

In late 2004, CPG paid Euros 600 million ($878.1 million) per season for exclusive rights to three seasons through 2008.

Given that French soccer stars, such as Thierry Henry, mostly play outside France, that price was already expensive.

Under latest deals, English soccer league rights cost $1.15 billion a year, Spanish rights around $663 million from 2009, while Germany’s Kirch has promised $842 million per season over 2009-15.

The large question, however, is if Orange is really a serious contender for the three premium lots of primetime games on offer.

Orange has just over one million Internet TV subscribers, compared to CPG’s 4.3 million premium soccer subs.

“The challenge is how to invest several hundreds of millions of Euros per season to build a sports content business from scratch that could only be monetized by pay customers, which Canal Plus France currently has a lock on,” said Paul Reynolds, at Deutsche Bank.