Watchdog org gives go-ahead on Bundesliga

Leo Kirch and the German Football League (DFL) received good news from Germany’s antitrust watchdog on Wednesday: They’re free to announce the start of bidding for top league Bundesliga soccer.

The Federal Cartel Office is still reviewing the DFL’s deal with Kirch’s Sirius SportMedia to market Bundesliga rights as well as probing the DFL’s role as the main marketer for all of the Bundesliga clubs.

However, industryites see the auction announcement as a signal that the watchdog will reach agreement with the DFL and Sirius.

Last fall, the DFL inked a surprise deal with Kirch to market Bundesliga games from 2009-15 in German-speaking territories in return for a guaranteed e3 billion ($4.7 billion) over the six years.

Sirius plans to produce and sell ready-to-air Bundesliga programs to attract bids from broadcasters and cablers that can’t produce their own coverage.

The plan is opposed by News Corp.-backed Premiere, Germany’s biggest pay TV company, which wants to continue its lock on soccer, the main subscriber driver.

The Cartel Office had appeared wary of Kirch’s plans to sell ready-to-air soccer programs, which, critics argued, limited competition, and it looked set to reject the deal.

As part of its probe, the watchdog has questioned TV broadcasters, cablers and telcos on their views of the plan.

Speaking to daily paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Cartel Office official Ralph Langhoff cautioned that “this is not equal to a preliminary decision, and it is still subject to the Cartel Office’s ongoing investigation.”

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