Soccer strategy unveiled

EC OKs rights marketing plan from German league

This article was updated at 9:30 p.m. PT on July 28, 2003.

BRUSSELS — The European soccer organization UEFA’s new selling arrangement for TV rights has got the greenlight from European Union antitrust regulators.

Under the new model, licenses can no longer be sold exclusively to one broadcaster but will be tendered in several packages. Also, clubs will get a partial right to market licenses themselves.

Rights to matches in the Champions League have been divided into three, three-year packages. The gold and silver packages will allow successful bidders to pick the two best matches for screening.

UEFA will also offer Champions League content to Internet and mobile phone operators.

This ends the practice of selling all Champions League TV rights in one package to a single broadcaster per territory for up to four years at a time.

Brussels felt that this system, in place since 1999, was anti-competitive as it strengthened the financial power of the TV company that secured the rights and made it difficult for other companies to outbid the rights holder. The previous system also excluded Internet and phone operators from access to the rights.

“This will provide a broader and more varied offer of football on television,” said EU competition Commissioner Mario Monti. “It will give an impulse to the emerging new media markets.”

Spokesman Tilman Lueder warned that the UEFA deal should act as a “template” for England’s Premier League, which is still negotiating with U.K. broadcasters over a new TV rights deal.

There is suspicion that the League is tempted to sell all the rights to Rupert Murdoch’s satcaster BSkyB, which has the biggest financial muscles.

However, it is now to split its bronze package of 62 Saturday soccer matches in two, boosting the chances for terrestrial broadcasters with smaller spending power to get the rights to some games.

Brussels has also provisionally cleared the new TV rights system brought in by Germany’s Bundesliga, which has split first and second division matches into 12 rights packages.

Separately, United Pan-Europe Communications (UPC) has picked up local paybox rights for the UEFA Champions League soccer for three years. The price tag was undisclosed.

UPC says it will broadcast the games for the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 soccer season to digital TV service subscribers over eight channels as part of what it calls a “new approach” to broadcasting soccer in Holland. Viewers will be able to watch all tourney matches live and in full for the first time.

UPC has 50,000 digital subscribers. The company is in talks to extend the availability of its programming to viewers of other digital platforms.

Dutch national broadcaster NOS has the terrestrial rights to the UEFA games to air one match per match night.

(Christian Kohl in Cologne and Marlene Edmunds in Amsterdam contributed to this report.)

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