Only company to challenge Canal Plus's lock

PARIS In a surprise move, France Telecom’s Orange has bid for all 12 packages of Gallic soccer league rights for the 2008-12 seasons — the only company to challenge paybox Canal Plus Group’s lock on the game.

Canal Plus has bid for 10 packages. Mobile phone operator SFR, owned by Canal Plus parent Vivendi, has applied for mobile phone and video-on- demand packages.

Candidates have until Jan. 31 to attach figures to their proposals.

Launched Nov. 30 by the French Soccer League (FFL), France’s latest soccer tender has become a thorn in Canal Plus’ side.

In late 2004, Canal Plus paid E600 million ($878.1 million) per season for exclusive rights to three seasons through 2008.

That price was already expensive.

Under the latest deals, English soccer league rights cost $1.15 billion a year, Spanish rights around $663 million beginning 2009, while Germany’s Leo Kirch has promised $842 million per season over 2009-15.

The bigger question, however, is if Orange is really a serious contender for the three premium lots of primetime games on offer.

Orange has just over 1 million Internet TV subscribers, compared to Canal Plus’ 4.3 million premium soccer subs.

“The challenge is how to invest several hundreds of millions of euros per season to build a sports content business from scratch that could only be monetized by pay customers, which Canal Plus France has a lock on,” says Deutsche Bank’s Paul Reynolds.

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