BBC takes soccer, tennis finals to Net

Web will air all TV games live and free-to-air online

LONDON — Deskbound sports fans will be glued to their PCs this summer as the BBC will broadcast both the soccer World Cup and the Wimbledon tennis championships over the Internet.

Under an exclusive deal with Swiss-based agency Infront Sports & Media, which handles worldwide marketing and sales of broadcast rights to the World Cup, the Beeb will air all of its TV games live and free-to-air online. Viewing of these matches will be restricted to audiences in the U.K.

All of the BBC’s group games will be available, as well as any games it has in the knockout stages. The BBC also will have the exclusive rights to England’s second-round and quarter-final games should the team reach that stage.

In addition, the Beeb has nonexclusive rights to short highlights from every World Cup game. Users will be able to access four-minute clips from all of the 64 matches on-demand.

“The World Cup on broadband is our biggest commitment yet to bringing people major events where and when they want them,” said BBC director of sport Roger Mosey.

Kicking off June 9, the World Cup is expected to pull in strong ratings on BBC1 and ITV, which paid between $209 million and $261 million for the rights to the 2002 and 2006 tournaments. BBC1’s coverage of England’s penultimate warm-up game on May 30, for example, averaged 9.2 million viewers, beating Channel 4’s “Big Brother” and ITV’s “X Factor: Battle of the Stars.”

The BBC already has broadband rights to the World Cup tourneys in 2010 and 2014.

Online coverage of Wimbledon, meanwhile, begins June 26. For the first time, U.K. broadband users will have access to five courts of live action during the championships. Service will feature BBC’s live terrestrial coverage and its digital interactive feeds, as well as three-minute highlight packages rounding up each day’s play.

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