Brits get their kicks

BBC, ITV nab rights to 2 World Cups for $230 mil

BERLIN — After months of wrangling, Kirch Media has sold U.K. rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup soccer championships jointly to the BBC and ITV for a reported £160 million ($230 million).

That’s a significant reduction from the $245 million Kirch was seeking for the 2002 event alone.

The BBC and ITV insisted on bidding jointly for the rights, despite furious accusations by Kirch that the two broadcasters were acting as an illegal cartel.

But Kirch had little room for maneuvering, since the U.K. government ruled back in 1996 that all 64 matches in the World Cup finals must be broadcast live on free TV. That meant the BBC and ITV, which have always shared the rights in the past, were the only possible buyers.

England’s Football Assn. even stepped into the fray at one point, calling Kirch’s reported asking price “shameful.”

Team spirit

Negotiations had been at a standstill for several months before talks resumed in the past two weeks, following the success of the English national team in qualifying for the championships.

The sale includes broadcast rights to all 64 matches from both the 2002 championships in Japan and South Korea as well as the 2006 event in Germany.

Alexander Liegl, Kirch Media’s managing director of sports rights, put a brave face on the deal: “This is the largest sports-rights agreement ever signed by U.K.’s two major free-to-air stations,” he said.

The Munich-based media group last week sold broadcast rights in South America for the 2002 and 2006 soccer finals to Brazil’s TV Globo and TV Direct, which covers Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela, for about $400 million. Kirch also inked a deal this week with a South Korean broadcasting pool that includes pubcasters KBS and MBC and commercial web SBS.

Still wrangling elsewhere

Company, which has faced an uphill battle in Europe, is still bargaining with webs in France and Italy, which have so far rejected Kirch’s price of $145 million. Kirch has said it expects to reach an agreement in those countries by year’s end. The U.K. is the third European territory, after Germany and Spain, to acquire World Cup rights from Kirch.

The group is still in negotiations with broadcasters in the U.S., another territory where it has yet to secure a deal.

Most of the rights to the rest of the world have already been sold, however. Kirch acquired worldwide rights to the World Cups for some $1.5 billion.

(Christian Koehl contributed to this report.)

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