Madrid (AFP) - The days of European clubs spending hundreds of millions on transfers are over with television companies set to scale back on their investments in football, according to Jaume Roures, chief executive of Spanish media company Mediapro.
Mediapro could prove a key player in clubs surviving the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic after it snapped up most of the domestic rights for France's Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 for four years starting next season in a total deal worth a record 1.153 billion euros ($1.25 billion) annually.
The Chinese-owned company also has rights to show La Liga matches in pubs and bars in Spain, despite its deal as the league's principal broadcaster ending two years ago.
The likes of Sky Sports and BT Sport, the English Premier League's domestic broadcasters in the UK, and Sky in Germany, will be watching with interest to see how Mediapro handles its contract due to begin in France in August. It has not yet even set up a channel.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Roures insisted the agreement already in place with French clubs "will not change" but was more sceptical about the sums broadcasters will be able to spend on new deals in future.
"The amounts spent on rights, in general, had reached the maximum already," Roures said. "It's obvious that TV rights will be affected by this."
Any reductions will hit clubs hard, with Barcelona, the richest football club in the world, making around 35 percent of their total revenue last season through television income.
For European champions Liverpool, the figure was even higher at almost 50 percent.
"The days of football clubs paying hundreds of millions of euros for players is over," says Roures. "Because clubs will run out of money and because banks will not lend money to clubs with the same ease as before.
"All that will change and I think it's very positive. I never agreed with clubs paying 140, 160 million euros for a football player. It will be very positive for society in general and for the clubs' finances in particular."
Roures believes the prospect of Barcelona buying Neymar back from Paris Saint-Germain, for example, is "now impossible". "Barcelona simply does not have the economic strength," he said.
- 'Audiences will be better' -
Some broadcasters are already stalling, with beIN and Canal Plus pausing payments due to the current season stopping in France while in the UK, Sky Sports are allowing customers to freeze subscriptions in the hope of halting an exodus.
There are fears audiences may not keep or renew their expensive packages but Roures is confident fans will be even keener to come back to football once lockdowns are lifted.
"The crisis is not going to keep people away from watching football," Roures said.
"Maybe we will have to play behind closed doors, maybe bars and restaurants will be closed until I don't know when, but people will need, or at least want, to see football as soon as possible. For the moment, we don't see the need to change anything."
While the German Bundesliga is hoping to lead the return to action by resuming games next month, the assumption is that fixtures in all Europe's top leagues would have to be played in empty stadiums, perhaps for several months.
"I think that would be compulsory," said Roures. "But if you finish the leagues behind closed doors, you also don't have to play on Saturdays and Sundays.
"We usually play on weekends because it's when people don't work and can go to the stadiums but now, this is not the case. So we can adapt the schedules.
"And then television audiences will be better because a very large part of the population will be at home. Even at the end of this, football will continue to be people's favourite sport."