Gov’t pays to bring sports to Argentines

Pro games including soccer televised on free-to-air nets

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s government is extending an effort to televise pro sports on free-to-air broadcasters after buying rights to hugely popular first-division soccer in 2009.

Effective March 1, ESPN, Fox Sports, TyC Sports and other sports programmers and producers must offer lower-division soccer as well as boxing, car racing, tennis, rugby and other pro sports on cable and broadcast TV, according to an agreement signed Thursday.

“This isn’t an agreement between executives and the government, but with the people,” said President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who may seek reelection in October. “People will see events that have to do with popular culture and the passion of Argentines.”

In August 2009, the government agreed to pay $155 million a year for rights to first-division soccer, aired since 1991 on cable and premium nets by a private venture of Grupo Clarin and DirecTV-backed TyC. The cost to watch sports irked fans unable to pay for cable subscriptions let alone premium channels.

“We are not against the business and profit of media and telecommunications companies,” the president said. “But you have to distinguish between social property and business.”

Feevees will air programs at no additional cost, with broadcasters handling transmissions if they want to cover a certain match or tournament like a local basketball event, a Wimbledon final, the Rugby World Cup or the Olympics. The broadcaster will buy the programming from the producer, such as ESPN.

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