Antitrust watchdog threatens to undo recent agreement

BERLIN — While Germany is in the grip of World Cup soccer fever, the long-running battle rages on for local soccer rights.

In the latest twist, Germany’s antitrust watchdog has threatened to undo a recent agreement between the German Football League (DFL) and telco giant Deutsche Telekom for Internet rights to the Bundesliga.

Paybox Premiere, which lost Bundesliga pay TV rights to Arena late last year, had hoped to redeem itself by carrying DT’s Internet coverage via cable and satellite.

This was nixed when DT became a Bundesliga sponsor and promised not to expand its Internet coverage to TV. Premiere, however, will still produce the telco’s online Bundesliga program.

Now rival telcos want Bundesliga Internet rights deals with Arena, prohibited by the exclusive agreement between DT and the DFL. The cartel office is looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, state media regulators are weighing in. The media watchdog in North Rhine-Westphalia says DT will need a broadcasting license to air games over the Internet.

That could be a problem since DT is 37% owned by the government and, under German law, the federal government can’t control broadcast companies. DT, however, maintains that its properly licensed partner Premiere is producing and overseeing its online soccer programming.

Premiere, meanwhile, is still trying to skewer Arena’s chances of becoming a major TV player. The paybox is considering legal action to get Arena’s broadcasting license revoked.

Whether the current frenzy will be settled by August, when the new Bundesliga season kicks off, remains to be seen.

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