French Competition Authority imposes fines for anti-competitive practices relating to football marketing rights

23 November 2009

Romain Ferla, Hélène Thibault

On 30 September 2009, the French competition authority, the Autorité de la concurrence, issued a decision in which the French Football Federation (FFF) and the company Sportfive were fined a total of EUR 6.9 million for having implemented anti-competitive practices in relation to the award and management of the marketing rights for the French national football team and the French cup.

The collusion was deemed to restrict competition due to the conclusion of long-term exclusive agreements.  The FFF and Sportfive had implemented exclusivity clauses, automatic renewal clauses, end of contract compensation clauses, and also extension amendments signed several years before the theoretical expiry of the contracts, which, taken together, considerably extended the initial duration of those agreements. Indeed, due to these clauses, there was no competitive bidding process concerning these rights for a period of 17 years.

Furthermore, there was also a restriction of competition since the parties colluded during the first competitive bidding process in 17 years, held in 2001, so that potential competitors, notably Havas Sports, could not bid in time.

The FFF did not contest the allegation of collusion and has given commitments for the future within the settlement procedure.  It has committed to setting up an open competition procedure for contracts dealing with the choice of sports equipment provider, the acquisition of audiovisual rights and intermediation contracts, the latter two contracts being limited to four years.

In return for these commitments, the FFF received a 40% reduction in its fine, which is rather unusual before the Autorité de la concurrence.

The Autorité de la concurrence seems to be satisfied with the FFF commitments since they are substantial, can be easily monitored and are suitable for preventing similar anti-competitive practices.  The Autorité de la concurrence states that the commitments could be used as a reference for the future marketing and intermediation contracts of other sports federations. They could also contribute to the structure of the market.

Source:  Decision n. 09-D-31