Kirch taps Jocic to oversee Bundesliga soccer

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FRANKFURT, Germany -- Leo Kirch has tapped his old employee Dejan Jocic to run a new company producing live coverage of Germany's Bundesliga soccer matches.

Jocic, who has served in several Kirch-owned companies, including pay TV groups DF1 and Premiere World, is head of production at Arena, the cable group that currently controls rights to top-league German soccer.

But that will change in 2009 following Kirch's spectacular €3 billion ($4.2 billion) deal to market German Bundesliga rights through his company Sirius (HR 10/10).

The deal marked the return of the octogenarian media warhorse Kirch to the German sports rights business and has sent the local industry into a panic.

Kirch's offer of €500 million ($710 million) a season for Bundesliga rights from 2009 through 2015 represents a 20% hike on the €440 million ($625 million) Arena currently pays. To make his deal work, Kirch will have to squeeze that extra cash out of German broadcasters.

Pay TV group Premiere and public broadcasters ARD/ZDF, which now split Bundesliga rights, are getting blustery, insisting they will not be pressured into coughing up more money.

Premiere is also annoyed that Kirch plans to produce the Bundesliga games himself, through a production joint venture with the German Soccer League, the company that Jocic will run.

Premiere would prefer to handle production in-house, branding the Bundesliga as an exclusive product for its subscribers, not as a package delivered by an outside company that could be easily sold off to a higher-bidding pay TV competitor.

For its part, public broadcaster ARD fears the Kirch deal could mean the end of its top-rated Bundesliga program "Sportschau." Kirch is expected to pressure ARD to move "Sportschau" to a late-night slot so he can jack up the price of live afternoon games on pay TV.

In an interview with Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper on Friday, ARD program director Gunter Struve argued that keeping the Bundesliga in an early-evening shot -- before 8 p.m. -- was the only way to ensure a mass TV audience for the matches.

But before the hard-knuckled dealmaking can begin, the Kirch/Sirius agreement with the German Soccer League has to be approved by local media authorities.

A pass is not certain. Observers have argued the deal could be illegal because Sirius would be in the position to sublicense the rights to produce Bundesliga matches to Kirch-controlled group EM.Sport Media. That would make Kirch both seller and buyer -- arguably a monopolist position that media watchdogs might not take kindly to.
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