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Canal Plus appeals soccer ruling

Pay TV giant starts court action

Canal Plus has begun proceedings to suspend the rights auction the French Soccer League (FFL) is holding because new regulations could prevent the French paybox from bidding for the valuable rights.

The Vivendi-owned pay TV operator has lodged appeals with France’s State Council and its First Instance Court to halt the auction.

Launched Nov. 30, the FFL’s soccer bid divides rights into 12 packages instead of the four used in the December 2004 rights issue.

Canal Plus’ major legal complaint, however, is that rights are being sold for four seasons — 2008 through 2012 — rather than three, as in the past.

The monopoly paybox cannot make soccer rights deals for more than three years under antitrust merger terms imposed by the government.

Canal Plus’ E1.13 billion ($1.65 billion) merger with rival satellite TV operator TPS was designed to eliminate competition.

The aim of the new soccer contract, especially its extension to four years as a carrot for upstart broadband TV operators, is to encourage new competition with Canal Plus.

In December 2004, Canal Plus paid way too much for 2005-08 rights — $1.6 billion — to deliver a knockout blow to TPS.

Canal Plus did not return phone calls.

The moves sparked an aggressive response from the FFL. “We regret our long-term partner’s perseverance with a policy of systematic conflict,” the league said in statement. “Canal Plus is attempting to obstruct competition. We will not be intimidated.”

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