Rugby league’s profile increasing on French television
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In an earlier article on The Roar, I outlined a new relationship between Al Jazeera Sport and rugby league in France.
More details have come to light with the launch of Al Jazeera’s beIN Sport, which is a French premium network of sports channels operated by the Qatar-based broadcaster. It consists of two channels – beIN Sport 1 and beIN Sport 2.
The network has announced that football will be its leading product, but surprisingly has named rugby league as a priority sport. The move is a recognition that, with the increasing number of subscription TV companies in the UK, content, particularly sport, is crucial to success.
This good news for rugby league in France is a mixture of timing and the sport’s appeal as a tremendous television product. beIN Sport management have secured a number of France and Europe’s most popular top class sports, including football, basketball and rugby league, which was up for grabs given rival broadcasters Canal +, and Orange Sports reluctance to commit to the sport.
Both these companies also invest heavily in the rival Top 14 rugby union, which remains under contract, opening up an opportunity for the thirteen man game.
Not only will the local Super League side Catalan Dragons be covered, State of Origin and NRL will also be covered.
Coverage will also feature a magazine type program dedicated to the sport. Dedicated rugby league commentators will present coverage including French league identities Rodolphe Pires, Louis Bonnery and Adel Fellous.
Additionally, French Federation President Nicolas Larrat outlined on Radio Marseillette recently that a 13 club professional league will kick off in the 2013-14 summer season. Currently, Luc Dayan, former owner of Lille FC, former President of French Football’s FC Nantes, RC Strasbourg, and close to the Qatari Royal Family, is doing an audit of French rugby league clubs on behalf of beIN Sport and the Federation Rugby XIII.
There is talk the new competition will kick off with a mixture of traditional clubs/amalgamations and big city ventures through private licences and investors. One can speculate what the make-up of the competition will be, but it is hoped the ‘summer league’ would include a mixture of clubs like Carcassonne, Avignon, Toulouse, Albi (or Aude Select with other regional clubs) and Montpellier. Also bigger cities that once had a substantial league presence like Marseille, Lyon, Paris and Bordeaux will be represented, as will new markets such as Nantes, Lille and Strasbourg. A precedent for this was former national French rugby union player and coach, Jacques Fouroux’s French rugby league competition in 1994.
This competition included ‘regional’ teams and attracted 10,000 plus crowds.
Unfortunately the competition was expensive to promote and didn’t garner national TV coverage or sponsorship it had hoped for. Rupert Murdoch’s European Super League ensured focus then switched to the ill-fated Paris Saint-Germain rugby league venture.
Fast forward 20 years and the French sporting landscape has changed considerably. There is now demand for top class TV sporting content and rugby league is seen as potential product at a bargain price. Al Jazeera Sport’s Deputy Director Charles Beitry, is a great fan of rugby league and is of the opinion the 13-a-side rugby will provide subscribers with the entertainment it has promise.
French media is also a lot different and more receptive to rugby league but the sport can’t remain regionalised if it is to attract ‘nation-wide’ interest.
beIN Sport’s involvement in rugby league has got good nation-wide media attention for the sport and it is not lost on the progressive thinking Al Jazeera organisation that rugby league has attracted record TV ratings and excellent financial contracts in other markets like the UK and Australia for pay television.
This project, if it gets off the ground, will have the potential to change the face of rugby league in France for the better.