TORONTO — The opening blows have been delivered in a court battle that could have major implications for how Canadian soccer fans view the domestic brand of the beautiful game.
On one side is Canadian Soccer Business, whose investor group and board includes the Canadian Premier League owners. CSB looks after marketing and broadcast rights for both the CPL, which is entering his sixth season, and Canada Soccer.
On the other is Mediapro, CSB’s Barcelona-based media partner — a global entity that produces content for 16 soccer leagues worldwide.
Both sides want out of the 10-year agreement struck in 2019, saying the other failed to live up to the deal. And both want the other to pay for it.
None of their claims have been proven yet, with the ball now in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. But CSB says it has taken back its rights from Mediapro and is looking for other broadcast partners.
In a five-page notice of action, CSB alleges Mediapro has reneged on its payments and “improperly repudiated” their agreement covering media rights and production, broadcast and distribution.
In a 32-page statement of claim, Mediapro alleges CSB has not lived up to its promises, saying that halfway through the agreement CSB has delivered just over a quarter of the number of required matches (a guaranteed minimum of 2,042 CPL and Canadian Championship games by 2028).
Mediapro also says the league had promised to expand to 10 teams by 2020 and 16 teams by 2024.
“The league has remained stagnant at eight teams since 2020 and shows signs of decline rather than growth,” the statement of claim says.
“Mediapro has delivered on its bargain. CSB has materially failed to do so and provides no reasonable prospect of doing so within the agreed upon term,” it adds.
Mediapro wants damages of at least $50 million, court costs and a declaration that it was within its right to terminate the deal.
“No entity has invested more in Canadian soccer than Mediapro,” it says in its statement of claim.
“Currently, Mediapro’s investment into Canadian soccer exceeds $60 million which is a combination of capital expenditures, operation and production costs and licence fees,” it added.
In its filing, Canadian Soccer Business alleges Mediapro did not meet its requirements, including failing to deliver on a sub-licensing arrangement for linear television broadcasting that would expose its content to a greater audience via cable.
“During the first five years of the agreement, Mediapro failed to comply with a number of its obligations, including failing to: pay $6 million of licence fees owing for 2023, carry out required marketing of the OneSoccer channel, and enter into an appropriate sub-licence arrangement,” says the notice of action.
“Mediapro’s conduct, and failure to abide by its duty to perform the agreement in good faith, also warrant a significant punitive damages award in the circumstances,” the CSB filing concludes.
Mediapro says it has paid 25 per cent of the rights fees owed for 2023. And it says in its filing it wrote to CSB in March 2023 “to convey its concerns,” with more requests for action since.
Mediapro said despite “repeated demands,” CSB failed to provide a “realistic and achievable plan” on meeting its requirements.
“CSB’s anticipated failure to deliver on its obligations under the MOU (memorandum of understanding) has deprived and will deprive Mediapro of substantially the entire benefit of the agreement. CSB’s conduct constitutes anticipatory repudiation of the contract, which entitles Mediapro to termination of the same. Continuing on with the contract will compound the damages suffered by Mediapro.”
In its court filing, Mediapro said CSB accepted its offer of $87 million for the 10-year deal for CSB’s global media rights, together with sports betting rights and digital platform rights for the CSB assets. The deal called for Mediapro to produce and broadcast all of CSB’s planned matches and establish a local production unit focused exclusively on Canadian soccer content.
Mediapro says the goal of the partnership with the CSB was simple — “deliver top-tier soccer content to a growing Canadian fan base.”
The agreement called for it to pay CSB an annual licensing fee ranging from $5 million in 2019 to $14 million in 2028, according to Mediapro.
CSB and Mediapro agreed to share sponsorship revenue from commercial inventory 50/50, with CSB providing annual minimum guaranteed payments for the first three years of the deal ($1 million in 2019, $2 million in 2020 and $3 million in 2021).
Jobs are at stake with OneSoccer, Mediapro’s streaming service and the primary vehicle for CPL and Canadian national team matches, now without its core Canadian content.
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.