Football Assn. ends 17-year row over TV rights

The Argentine Football Assn. has pacted with the government for TV rights, ending a 17-year tie-up with a private media company that aired most matches on cable and pay-per-view.

The government will pay at least $155 million a year for the rights under a 10-year contract. That’s about double what Television Satelital Codificada, a venture of local media companies Grupo Clarin and DirecTV-backed Torneos y Competencias, was paying until AFA broke its 2007-14 contract.

AFA made the move because the TSC wouldn’t commit funds to help soccer clubs avoid bankruptcy.

The government will air all big first-division matches, such as those between Boca Juniors and River Plate, live on pubcaster Canal 7 and plans to resell other matches to free-to-air broadcasters Artear-Canal 13 and Telefe.

The government will use proceeds from the resales and TV advertising to cover the cost of the rights. It will not take a profit, instead dividing earnings 50-50 between AFA and an Olympic Games fund.

“This is something more than a sports deal,” said Argentina president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. “It’s a step toward the democratizing of Argentine society because it is not fair that only those who can pay have the right to watch soccer” on TV.

TSC secured the rights in 1992, irritating soccer fans who couldn’t afford cable subscriptions.

Clubs are struggling to keep on top of debt, tax payments and player salaries as the global financial crisis reduces player transfer fees and makes it harder to sell players to clubs in Europe. The first division teams have a combined debt of $182 million.

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