On January 14, 2014, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (the French Rugby League or “LNR”) and French premium cable television channel Canal+ entered into an agreement whereby the latter was granted exclusive rights to broadcast Top 14 games (i.e. first division rugby games) for five seasons.
On July 30, 2014, following a complaint filed by beIN Sports France (“beIN Sports”), a company that operates paid premium sports television channels in France, the French Competition Authority (the “FCA”) suspended the agreement concluded between the LNR and Canal +, effective as of the end of the season 2014/2015, and ordered the LNR to proceed, at the latest by January 31, 2015, with a new assignment of the Top 14 broadcasting rights for the 2015/2016 and following seasons, under transparent and non-discriminatory conditions.
Canal+ and the LNR appealed the decision of the FCA. On October 9, 2014, the Court of Appeal of Paris upheld the decision of the FCA based on the following arguments:
- Top 14 broadcasting rights are likely to constitute premium rights. Indeed, they cover events likely to generate large audiences and therefore constitute a driving force for subscriptions;
- Top 14 broadcasting rights, given their premium nature, must be assigned following a competitive procedure in order to prevent any discriminatory or anticompetitive practices, and for a limited duration. According to the Court of Appeal, negotiating and subsequently entering into a contract granting exclusive broadcasting rights over a period of five years, while shutting out any other operator from the broadcasting rights allocation process, constitutes an anticompetitive practice;
- The potential anticompetitive practice in issue has caused an immediate and serious harm to the pay television sector, to consumers and to beIN Sports.
The Court of Appeal of Paris gave the LNR an additional two-month period to proceed with a new assignment of the broadcasting rights, according to a transparent and non-discriminatory procedure. Both Canal+ and the LNR can still appeal the decision of the Court of Appeals of Paris before the Cour de Cassation, the French Supreme Court.