Shareholders cut funds to Dutch niche channel

AMSTERDAM – Amsterdam-Controversial Dutch sports niche Sport 7 went off the air Sunday after shareholders cut off all financial backing over the weekend and sought legal protection against creditors.

The impending bankruptcy is expected to trigger a wave of lawsuits over sports rights issues. Backed by some of Holland’s biggest business players, including Philips, the channel had been losing more than $600,000 a day since it launched last August.

Sport 7’s failures were being put down mainly to protracted legal wrangling over whether the Dutch soccer league KNVB was legally entitled to sell the exclusive TV rights for its member clubs to Sport 7. A Dutch high court recently ruled the TV rights belong only to the individual clubs, throwing the worth of the $560 million, seven-year KNVB rights deal into question.

The rights debacle is being tracked closely by other clubs across Europe facing similar issues. Sport 7 president Jan Timmer, up until last October also president of Dutch consumer electronics giant Philips, said the KNVB breached its contract by selling rights to Sport 7 it didn’t legally have.

Sport 7’s demise was also blamed on poor programming and squabbles with cable companies over fees. SBS6, a channel partially owned by Disney/ABC through its parent company Scandinavian Broadcasting System (SBS), as late as last Friday was attempting to forge a deal with Sport 7 which would give it control of the sports rights.

SBS chairman and CEO Harry Evans Sloan told Daily Variety the deal was obviously history but that “SBS6 intended to be a heavy contender in any new round of bidding for soccer rights” expected to start as soon as the courts sort out some of the legal nightmare. Aside from Dutch players public broadcaster NOS, movie programmer FilmNet, and three-channel net Holland Media Group, Germany’s Bertelsmann group was reported to also be interested in bidding for the rights.

Other backers of the channel included banking and business group ING, postal and telecommunications consortium KNP, Joop van den Ende and John De Mol, the founders of Endemol Entertainment, and the KNVB itself, which owned a 10% slice of the channel.

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