Leo Kirch plan under review by antitrust group

BERLIN — Although Leo Kirch’s plan to market prepackaged Bundesliga soccer programming is still under review by Germany’s antitrust watchdog and faces opposition from News Corp.-backed pay TV operator Premiere, it’s attracting interest from some major players.

Kabel Deutschland (KDG), Germany’s biggest regional cabler, may end up competing against Premiere for the Bundesliga, which Kirch is marketing from 2009-15, if the Federal Cartel Office greenlights the plan.

KDG topper Adrian von Hammerstein told German financial daily Handelsblatt that prepackaged programming made the Bundesliga especially attractive for the cabler, adding that it was “worth the trouble to take a close look at the matter.”

The German Football League (DFL) inked a deal with Kirch’s Sirius SportMedia last year to market Bundesliga rights. As part of the agreement, Sirius and the DFL plan to establish a joint venture to produce live Bundesliga shows.

While the watchdog has yet to rule on the deal, some industry observers say Kirch’s media assets, such as sports channel DSF and sports production company Plazamedia, may constitute a conflict of interest.

Premiere, which produces its own Bundesliga coverage with its own commentators, is dead set against acquiring Kirch’s prepackaged programming; execs have said it would compromise the journalistic integrity of Premiere’s reporting.

The Kirch plan would also widen the field of bidders and water down exclusivity, giving buyers like KDG that would not normally have had the chance to produce their own soccer coverage the opportunity to offer the Bundesliga to subscribers. It would also put them in competition with Premiere.

If approved, Kirch’s plan may see Bundesliga rights split up among various regions. KDG, for example, controls 13 of the country’s 16 regional cable groups.

Parm Sandhu, chief exec of fellow regional cabler Unitymedia, which operates in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, has also expressed interest in prepackaged Bundesliga coverage.

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