Soccer rumor hits Sogecable

Mediapro may buy rights

MADRID — Sogecable shares dropped 3.1% in Tuesday trading following Spanish press claims that aggressive soccer rights rival Mediapro is close to buying the TV rights to 21 Spanish soccer clubs.

If there’s a shred of truth to the reports — which quote a club rep — it’s not good news for Sogecable, Spain’s biggest pay TV player, which controls Spanish TV soccer rights through a 75% stake in Audiovisual Sport.

Mediapro announced Wednesday that it would hold a press conference this week to respond to press reports.

Until then the Sogecable share shunt at least illustrates market concern about its ability to retain the jewel in its crown: exclusive Sunday night soccer games on satcaster Digital Plus’s premium paybox Canal Plus.

A controlling shareholder in startup broadcaster La Sexta, Mediapro has already tied down rights from 2009 to Spain’s two biggest soccer clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Athletic de Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Zaragoza, Seville and Valencia.

Mediapro bought TV rights to Formula One racing this May.

The 21 clubs include four first division and 17 second division entities.

Rights would run from 2009, when the Sogecable deals lapse.

After the Barcelona deal in June 2006, Mediapro took 25% in Audiovisual Sport and AS granted a Saturday night soccer league game to La Sexta.

The new deal would give Mediapro a clear sway over soccer rights in Spain.

If Mediapro has bid for the clubs, and “Sogecable wants to match the Mediapro offer, that would mean hefty cost inflation for Sogecable,” said Fabian Lares, an analyst at Espirito Santo Investment.

If Mediapro ties down the rights, Sogecable might well be forced to re-negotiate its 75%-25% share split in Audiovisual Sport.

“That would mean less revenue contribution to Sogecable from Audiovisual Sport, or, in the end, could entail Sogecable’s loss of exclusivity on the Canal Plus game,” he added.

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