Protests erupted after talks collapsed; only 4% will pay to see games

BERLIN — Following the intervention of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last week, German media group Kirch and pubcasters ARD and ZDF look set to restart negotiations today over the broadcast rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup soccer.

The pubcasters initially refused to pay Kirch’s reported asking price of DM 750 million ($347 million) for the rights.

A storm of political protest, including a heated speech from Schroeder, erupted after talks collapsed. Some politicians, like Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, were angry at the pubcasters for not using their viewer-funded warchests to acquire the popular sporting event.

“If anybody can pay millions for the World Cup games, then it’s the public broadcasters,” said Diepgen, echoing the sentiments of many German viewers. “We all pay DM 31.58 ($15) a month out of our pockets for ARD and ZDF.”

In a recent poll, 73% of surveyed TV viewers said the pubcasters should broadcast the games. Only 4% said they would be willing to pay to see the matches on TV.

Other high-profile politicos have been quick to warn Kirch not to move the games to his troubled pay TV service Premiere World, even threatening special legislation.

ARD chairman Fritz Pleitgen has said ARD and ZDF were ready to pay up to $59 million for just the 2002 games — which would be broadcast live from Asia when most Germans are asleep — if they received a buy option for the 2006 event, to be hosted by Germany. Kirch refused to grant the pubcasters any guarantee.

The pubcasters have a combined annual budget of around $6 billion.

Kirch paid around $1.6 billion for the worldwide rights to both the 2002 and 2006 games.

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