February 26th, 2024

Dispute between Canadian Soccer Business and its media partner leads to legal action

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on January 25, 2024.

Canadian Soccer Business is taking legal action against Mediapro, its media partner, over breach of contract The CSB, whose ownership group and board includes the Canadian Premier League owners, looks after marketing and broadcast rights for both the Canadian Premier League and Canada Soccer. The Canadian Premier League logo is seen on a game ball at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

Canadian Soccer Business and Mediapro, its media partner, have gone to court in a dispute that will have a major ripple effect on the sport in Canada.

Both sides are blaming each other for the breakdown. But the legal action essentially means CSB has taken back the broadcast rights to all its properties and is looking for new broadcast/media partners.

CSB, whose ownership group and board includes the Canadian Premier League owners, looks after marketing and broadcast rights for both the Canadian Premier League and Canada Soccer.

Mediapro is a Barcelona-based multimedia communications group. Mediapro Canada owns OneSoccer, the streaming service that airs both CPL and Canadian national team games.

The dispute means OneSoccer is without its core Canadian content.

CSB alleges Mediapro “failed to meet significant contractual obligations, including defaulting on the majority of its rights fees due for 2023 and failure to secure broader audiences for Canada’s national teams, the Canadian Championship and the Canadian Premier League.”

“Our decision to pursue legal action was not one we took lightly, but we felt it was necessary to protect the tremendous investments we have made to build the game in Canada,” CSB said in a statement. “By taking back full control of our rights we will immediately have the opportunity to do so with new partners who have the ability to reach larger audiences.”

CSB declined further comment other than the one-paragraph statement. But it is believed the money in dispute is well into the millions.

Mediapro presented a different story, pointing the finger at CSB.

“Despite the huge passion Canadians have for soccer, it has become clear that CSB has been and will be unable to fulfil its side of our commercial agreement,” it said in a statement. “We have made best efforts to work with the CSB on a constructive path forward, but have come to a position where we have no choice but to seek to terminate our agreement.

“We continue to be excited by the many great things happening in Canadian soccer, but have taken this step in the interests of our global business and our many partners around the world. As this matter is now before the Ontario Superior Court, we will have no further comment.”

The statement said Mediapro has invested “more than $60 million to create an ecosystem for the Canadian game and its fans, including through new production facilities and capabilities, popular online communities, and the establishment of OneSoccer, a first-of-its-kind channel dedicated to Canadian soccer.

“We believe that no entity has invested more in Canadian soccer than Mediapro.”

Clearly the CSB hope is that the break with Mediapro will lead to a more satisfactory media partner and getting its product out to more viewers.

OneSoccer has had a hard time getting cable providers to open their doors to its service, although the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled last March that Rogers Communications had given preferential treatment to its own Sportsnet service over OneSoccer.

The inability to get its properties on major broadcast outlets, other than Telus, is believed to part of CSB’s beef with Mediapro.

And while CSB restricted its comments to Thursday’s statement, it seems unlikely it would take such a radical step if it was not confident it could find a replacement media partner, given the Canadian women are in action next month at CONCACAF W Gold Cup, the Canadian men’ are playing a Copa America playoff March 23 and the sixth season of the CPL kicks off April 13.

The CPL unveiled Mediapro as its media partner in February 2019, less than three months before kicking off its inaugural season. The partnership with Canadian Soccer Business was announced as a 10-year deal.

At the time, a source said Mediapro was investing $200 million into the Canadian project over the lifetime of the deal. Scott Mitchell, CEO of Canadian Soccer Business, called it “the single-largest commitment any company has ever made in terms of soccer in Canada.”

The agreement gave Mediapro global and domestic media rights to the CPL, the Canadian Championship and Canadian men’s and women’s teams. It also included rights to League 1 Ontario matches, a feeder league under the CPL umbrella.

“It’s easy to define our plan in one sentence – we want to build a home for Canadian soccer,” Oscar Lopez Garcia, then CEO of Mediapro Canada, said in 2019.

The deal meant the CPL had someone to handle its game production. At the time the deal was announced, Mediapro said it had some 70 production trucks worldwide and was producing games in 16 different leagues.

Mediapro also produced all Canadian national team games that fall under Canadian Soccer Business jurisdiction.

The company has been in a state of flux of late.

Mediapro refinanced its debts in 2022, handing its majority shareholder, Hong Kong-based Southwind Group, more control. Mediapro co-founder Jaume Roures left the company in October and there were reports around that time that Southwind was looking to sell its 80 per cent stake in Mediapro.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.

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