Murdoch chases German TV soccer rights

BERLIN — After reportedly forking out $110 million a year for broadcast rights to Champions League soccer matches in Germany, Rupert Murdoch’s TM3 women’s programming channel is now going after the national league (Bundesliga) games.

Germany’s leading TV broadcasters have expressed shock at the price TM3 is willing to pay for soccer rights and say they are not prepared to enter a bidding war. “Of course we are interested in the rights to broadcast the Bundesliga,” Herbert Kloiber, a major shareholder in TM3, told a German newspaper Sunday. Kloiber owns production/distribbery TeleMunchen, which owns one-third of the channel. Murdoch’s News Corp. controls two-thirds of the station.

Commercial web SAT.1 holds the Bundesliga first division rights until June 2000, but they go on the block this summer.

Soccer ‘too dear’

Officials at national pubcaster ZDF said the cost of rights to international matches and the German Cup competition, which it shares with ARD through 2004, had already exhausted its sports programming budget. “The price for the Bundesliga matches was already extremely high before Murdoch,” the spokesman said. “ZDF has a limit as to how much it can finance.”

A spokesman at ARD had similar comments, adding, “We are interested in everything but not at any price.”

An official at CLT-Ufa, RTL’s parent company, said it was too early to say whether it would battle it out with Murdoch. He said he was appalled by the price TM3 had paid for the Champion’s League rights. “We are not ready to pay any price for soccer rights.”

Legal block

The spokesman confirmed reports that CLT-Ufa was considering legal options to block TM3 from keeping the Champions’ League rights.

RTL held the rights until February, when the European Soccer Association (UEFA) canceled its contract because the broadcaster refused to pay more. RTL retains a “matching right,” meaning it can match the offer of a competing broadcaster.

CLT-Ufa is now reviewing whether RTL still held that right at the time TM3 acquired the rights. Nevertheless, the move did not change the fact that RTL considered the price too high, he added.

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