Brit culture secretary fights to keep event 'listed'

LONDON — The British government is battling to keep the 2002 World Cup on free-to-air television, thwarting German media group Kirch’s plans to recoup the $1 billion it spent on rights by selling soccer matches exclusively to pay TV.

The U.K. is the only major European market where all 64 tournament games are a protected, or “listed,” event. Elsewhere, only matches involving that country’s team and the final stages are guaranteed free.

Kirch has complained that British laws are unfair, but culture secretary Chris Smith is refusing to budge.

$250 mil bill

Rumor has it that Kirch subsid Prisma, which sells the rights, is asking for $250 million from the BBC and commercial channel ITV, which traditionally share World Cup matches. The two paid $6 million for the 1998 tournament.

Prisma believes that the BBC and ITV are acting as a cartel, deliberately not outbidding each other in an effort to lower the price. The inside word is that they hope to pay about $60 million.

The 2006 World Cup will be held in Japan and South Korea. Kirch is paying $1.2 billion for the rights.

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