German media group contesting free-to-air broadcast

LONDON — Unhappy with how it’s allowed to sell the U.K. broadcasting rights to World Cup soccer, Kirch is taking its case to the European court of justice.

The German media group, which holds the rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, is contesting the British government’s insistence that the entire tournament be broadcast over free-to-air outlets (Daily Variety, Feb. 6).

Kirch is challenging Britain’s 1996 Broadcasting Act, which protects every World Cup match (currently 64 outings). In other European markets, typically only home-team matches and the very last stages of the tournament are guaranteed free.

Kirch claims the British “listing” of the World Cup is illegal because it was only ratified by the European Union in May 2000 and Kirch acquired the rights in 1996. The company is paying $1 billion for 2002 and $1.2 billion for 2006.

The government maintains the World Cup has been protected since 1985 and Kirch should have known that would not change.

Kirch, through its subsid Prisma Sports, is negotiating with the BBC and ITV, which traditionally divide up the World Cup between them. They are unwilling, however, to pay Kirch’s reported $260 million asking price.

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