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Cecchi Gori, RAI ink football rights deal

MILAN — Italian media tycoon Vittorio Cecchi Gori and pubcaster RAI Thursday announced that they have reached an agreement to share TV rights to national football matches, the most popular TV programs in Italy.

The deal apparently ends the guerra del calcio (football war) between the film producer and the state-owned net-work, but, not surprisingly, drew very angry reactions from RAI’s arch-rival Mediaset.

The pact, which must still be approved by the courts, calls for RAI to remain the official owner of the TV rights, but to give Cecchi Gori’s national TV network TMC a package of mainly primetime matches and most of interna-tional TV rights for about $35 million. Cecchi Gori will pay RAI with two film packages of the same value, includ-ing 76 movies, 36 of which are firstrun, including “Smoke,” “Seven,” “Casino” and some recent Italian hits.

The agreement looks positive for both RAI and Cecchi Gori.

The pubcaster will finally fill its film library, which is very limited because its only output deal is with Disney (and that is currently being renegotiated). Cecchi Gori will get some important football matches, vital to its network, without coming up with any cash or seeking a new bank loan. In addition, the media tycoon will be able to use RAI’s transmission network to improve the territorial coverage of TMC.

Silvio Berlusconi’s TV group Mediaset reacted angrily to the agreement and asked the Media Guarantor’s Office to block it. “It is an illegal sharing of the football TV rights market, contrary to any fair competition. It is a trust which destroys the market,” the group said in a statement.

Cecchi Gori was to have presented a $125 million bank collateral to a national court Thursday, in return for the broadcast rights to Italian League football for the next two years.

The court had awarded the current football season TV rights to RAI in 1996, when Cecchi Gori failed to present a bank guarantee for a three-year pact.

Thursday, rather than presenting the bank collateral to the court, Cecchi Gori asked the judge to approve the deal he had signed with RAI. On April 11 the court will announce its verdict, which is expected to be favorable.

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