Elected two months ago at the head of the Professional Football League (LFP), Vincent Labrune is facing a crisis of unprecedented violence. In addition to the economic slump linked to the health crisis, the new broadcaster Mediapro was hit with a hammer, which no longer pays its installments and has launched a conciliation procedure with the Nanterre commercial court.
Barely named, you face Mediapro payment defaults. Did you expect it?
By running for the presidency of the League, I knew the general context and the associated risks. And I am ready to face them. I knew that such an earthquake was not to be ruled out and that a renegotiation of these TV rights was to be expected. We discuss constructively with the conciliator in order to find a solution acceptable to each of the parties in the shortest possible time. Because time, as it is, we do not have.
Mediapro asks to renegotiate the pre-established agreements in the call for tenders …
I expect them to respect their commitment and to show responsibility at the very least in resolving the crisis that opposes us.
It is not acceptable to be world champion in the sport most practiced in France and not to be a driving league at the world level
Is French professional football on the brink of a precipice?
We are living in a health, social, economic and identity crisis. The entire sport ecosystem is faltering. This is the first time that we have experienced a crisis of this magnitude, with no clear outcome for the moment. Yes, football is in danger. No, he’s not invulnerable. Let us not forget that the League contributes to the financing of amateur sport for more than 100 million euros per year, which is to say the gravity of the situation. I welcome the passage of the decision of the public authorities to maintain the activity of high-level professional sports. It is loaded with meaning. Beyond its economic weight, football is a factor of national unity. And a unique entertainment product that offers emotions to millions of French people, even more today… My priority is to get out of this crisis as soon as possible. And to prepare this industry to become more resilient, more stable and more competitive.
How do you see the future?
We must transform constraints into possibilities. More than ever, we will have to learn the lessons of this crisis to reinvent the model of French professional football. Whether in terms of relations with our broadcasters – the Mediapro affair sounds like a terrible call to order – the format of our competitions or the organization of our structures. We will not be able to do without careful consideration of the creation of a commercial subsidiary which directly manages the rights of our championships. It is our own responsibility to sustain our industry.
That is to say?
It is not acceptable to be world champion in the sport most practiced in France, the third pillar of socialization in the country after family and school, and not to be a driving league on a world scale. The challenges are many. Our competitions must first be reinvented. We must rediscover sporting uncertainty, increase the competitiveness of our clubs and create a fertile ground that will allow us to attract new investors and partners in order to generate new resources. We must finally unify French football, build the future together by stopping working in silos. I intend to involve all the players, including the players, who represent the number one value in our economy and are the first ambassadors of the social function of football.
The hardest part is ahead of us, the public authorities must understand it and support us
But what do you mean by inventing a new model?
This industry, which can generate many more jobs than it does, must be able to weigh much more in the growth of France. Unfortunately, I note that its economic potential is not taken seriously enough, when it could be one of the mastodons of the entertainment industry. I want to transform French professional football so that it regains weight, credibility and power. It is vital to review the structures of this sport and the culture that surrounds it. I want to bring him in line with his time.
He is not?
Unfortunately, he is often without ideas. It works on the achievements of another time: a world crossed by conservatisms, which is afraid to open up and reform. This observation is shared by a large number of club presidents, with whom we are going to set a new course. We have seen too much in recent years French football and its families tear themselves apart. This is what made us stagnate. Let’s not be afraid to be daring and disruptive.
Are you appealing to the state?
Yes, because the challenge is also political. In these times of crisis, professional football can embody a new impetus. And the State must be able to rely on this formidable lever that is this sport. Our officials and local elected officials sometimes underestimate its societal and economic role.
At OM, I took the measure of a reality that should not be underestimated: the local and regional roots of a club
Members of Parliament want a parliamentary inquiry into the Mediapro affair. Does this intrusion bother you?
No, because I want to establish new relationships with politicians and public authorities. The government provided strong support for French football at the end of last season: state aid [PGE, chômage partiel…] were decisive in safeguarding the economy of our clubs over the 2019-2020 season. Unfortunately, the hardest part is ahead of us. The public authorities must understand this and support us. It is very important to change the way the executive and the political class look at the world of football.
What lessons have you learned from your stint as President of Olympique de Marseille (2011-2016)?
Knowing how a high-level club works is the first requirement of my new role. It was at OM that I took the measure of a reality that should not be underestimated: the local and regional roots of a club, and its influence. A football club boosts the sense of belonging of those who defend it, with repercussions on the local economy. We must therefore consider structural transformations, in particular through the support of local investors. But, and I insist, by also supporting foreign investors.
How to sell a product that does not shine in Europe?
We grant Ligue 1 the fact of being part of the European top 5: I find that very flattering in terms of display, but we have not won a European Cup since 1996, when nine other countries did. since. The LFP, alongside all the players, has the responsibility of reversing this trend. What we are going through is an opportunity to rethink our model. We need to find a way to move the bigger clubs over, by increasing their income. At the same time, we must seek to strengthen the smaller ones and, for example, make broadcasters want to bet more on Ligue 2. We must redesign the format of our competitions. It is mandatory, otherwise we will die of boredom when it comes to entertainment and exhaustion when it comes to investments. In general, in Europe, there are too many competitions, too many clubs, too many players. It pulls the average level down.
We must be able to satisfy football fans without bleeding themselves to live their passion
Concretely, do you want to move to 18 clubs, move towards a closed league or another type of model?
There is no question of a closed league. It is simply a matter of opening a debate on the number of clubs participating in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2.
This crisis will she not widen the gap between professional football and amateur football?
Amateur football is directly linked to professional football and to society as a whole. I assured the president of the federation, Noël Le Graët, of my willingness to work hand in hand with him. It is reciprocal and it is fundamental as football promotes social links, integration, education… Let us never forget that local clubs in cities and districts are the lifeblood of the France team.
With its multiple subscription offers, football has become an expensive commodity. Many fans can no longer afford to watch it.
We must be able to offer a quality show, to satisfy the football fans who are the foundation of this economy. Without they bleeding themselves to live their passion. It is therefore up to us to seek additional resources so that this sport remains accessible and consumable by all. We have to create new interactions for the consumer, put the viewer at the heart of the system. This is how we will manage to stem another scourge, that of piracy, a real poison for our economy.