Premiere may re-enter soccer game

Deal with Arena nears

BERLIN — Pay TV group Premiere looks set to get back into the soccer game by sublicensing rights to top league Bundesliga matches from feevee rival Arena.

Local press reports that Arena was close to signing a deal with Germany’s biggest pay TV provider boosted Premiere’s share price by nearly 7% on Friday to Euros 19.80 ($26.90).

Premiere and Arena have declined to comment on any possible agreement.

Arena was launched last year by parent group Unity Media, Germany’s second largest cable operator, after acquiring Bundesliga rights for some $300 million per season.

Premiere won little favor with the German Football League (DFL) in 2005 after pushing for exclusive rights to the Bundesliga, to the detriment of the country’s pubcasters and their popular game wrap coverage.

The DFL’s decision to go with Unity Media cost Premiere dearly — the paybox saw its share price plunge 45% to an all-time low of $14.85 after losing the Bundesliga in December 2005.

Yet it hasn’t been an easy start for Arena. The channel was unable to get a distribution deal with Kable Deutschland, Germany’s biggest cable provider, and was forced to ink a satellite distribution agreement with Premiere earlier this year. That arrangement was halted in April after federal antitrust watchdog launched a probe into the partnership.

The move looks to have hurt Arena’s bottom line. Unity Media, Arena’s parent, had predicted the channel would break even this year after posting a $180 million operating loss in 2006, but that seems increasingly unlikely.

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