Rights to soccer league up for sale

Germany's Bungesliga linked to fate of Premiere

BERLIN — In Germany, rights to top league Bundesliga soccer are indelibly linked to the fate of Premiere, the country’s only nationwide pay TV platform.

In October, the German Football League (DFL) inked a marketing deal with media mogul Leo Kirch, who guaranteed E3 billion ($4.4 billion) over six years beginning in 2009.

Kirch’s rights company Sirius and the DFL will establish a joint venture to produce and package live coverage of the games to attract a greater number of buyers from diverse platforms. The league has said it hopes to see media sales rise to $4.8 billion between 2009 and 2015.

Bidding for the Bundesliga rights starts in April.

While the DFL and Kirch need Premiere, it’s not yet clear what they’ll offer the paybox.

Premiere says it will not buy pre-packaged and produced Bundesliga coverage, and it wants exclusivity — Premiere’s not ready to pay much if Sirius sells Bundesliga rights to other local pay TV channels.

While Premiere is the only nationwide pay TV player, there are smaller regional feevees that could benefit from Bundesliga soccer.

Yet Premiere is the only buyer that can offer the DFL a lucrative return.

Local observers reckon Kirch and his allies might make a grab for Premiere, which, ironically, was once part of Kirch’s media empire before it went bankrupt and was sold off. It’s a move that would certainly ease the exploitation of Bundesliga rights.

Premiere topper Michael Boernicke has admitted that the pay TV operator may become a takeover target following declines in its share price, but stressed that the company would win the rights to broadcast Bundesliga games for the three years through 2012.

Premiere “has become more attractive for possible interested parties,” he recently told local magazine Focus Money. “Some of them will take a closer look at our company.”

He added, however, “I am 100% certain the ball will still roll at Premiere after 2009.”

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