Leo Kirch sets the stage for a comeback

Bundesliga, Constantin decisions keep 81-year-old busy

BERLIN -- It's been a good week for octogenarian mogul Leo Kirch.

Two key decisions have brought closer to reality his dreams for a grand return to the international media scene.

One was from the German Cartel office, which approved, in principle, Kirch's plans to market the rights to Germany's Bundesliga soccer league.

Details still have to be worked out, but it looks like Kirch will soon start to collect on the 3 billion euros ($4.8 billion) he put up to secure the rights for the 2009 through 2015 Bundesliga seasons. Kirch could reap a windfall from new buyers such as cable groups KDG and Unitymedia, which are hungry for soccer rights to sweeten their premium offerings.

The other decision came from the board of Munich film giant Constantin. Germany's largest indie distributor and producers of films such as "Downfall" and, through subsidy Impact Pictures, the "Resident Evil" franchise, bowed to the inevitable and gave the thumbs up to Kirch's takeover bid. It would see Kirch pay as much as 233 million euros ($370 million) for Constantin.

But Constantin is just a pawn in Kirch's larger plan to merge EM with Constantin's Swiss parent company Highlight. After the takeover goes through, Highlight will buy back the Constantin stock from Kirch at cost.

Kirch, who through EM already holds 37.6% of Highlight, could then go ahead and merge the Swiss and German firms to create one of Europe's largest sports and film rights groups. Not bad for an 81-year-old who is looking more and more like this year's comeback kid.
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