Kirch may have to exit EM.Sport

Watchdogs mull antitrust concerns

BERLIN — Leo Kirch’s bid to produce and market German soccer programming appears to be meeting with opposition from antitrust watchdogs, who are reportedly demanding he sell his share in sports rights and entertainment group EM.Sport Media in order to win regulator approval.

Deutsche Fussball Liga, the body that governs soccer, last year inked a deal with Kirch’s Sirius SportMedia to market Bundesliga broadcast rights as well as produce and sell ready-to-air Bundesliga programs, but according to German finance magazine Focus Money, the Federal Cartel Office sees a conflict of interest in Kirch’s stake in EM.Sport, which owns sports channel DSF, a possible buyer of Bundesliga rights, as well as Plazamedia, which produces live coverage of Bundesliga matches.

Citing unnamed sources, the magazine said the watchdog would not be satisfied with Kirch reducing his 17.1% share in EM.Sport and that it was demanding he exit the company completely, a move Kirch deputy Dieter Hahn has reportedly ruled out.

While reps for the Cartel Office and Kirch have declined to comment on the report, EM.Sport’s outgoing topper Werner Klatten told the magazine that Kirch’s holding company KF15 had assured him of a long-term investment in EM.Sport.

The impasse has halted the sale of TV rights and continues to squeeze EM.Sport’s share price, currently at a Euros 2.41 ($3.78), a four-year low.

Meanwhile, speaking at EM.Sport’s annual general meeting in Munich on Wednesday, Klatten said the company plans to further increase its stake in Swiss media group Highlight Communications to at least 50% in the near future.

EM.Sport holds 37.6% in Highlight, whose assets include Germany’s biggest producer-distrib Constantin Film as well as sports licenser TEAM, which handles worldwide rights to UEFA Champions League soccer.

Klatten added that the group aims to become “one of Europe’s leading media companies in sports as well as in film and television production.”

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