Spanish soccer rights war breaks out

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MADRID -- A broadcasting rights war has broken out in Spain over the future of lucrative soccer rights, with free-to-air giant Mediapro squaring up to pay TV giant Sogecable.

Mediapro fired the first salvo late Thursday by announcing it has sealed a deal for all television rights to the games played by 39 of the country's 42 professional teams beginning from the 2009-10 season.

Spain's biggest pay TV operator Sogecable -- and until recently the undisputed owner of the country's soccer rights -- hit back two hours later, saying it would file criminal charges against Mediapro's top brass Jaume Roures and Tatxo Benet and any other party supporting the claim.

Roures and Benet declined comment on the price paid for the hot ticket, but Spanish media reported Mediapro would stump up €500 million per season for the 39 teams.

Last year, Mediapro signed exclusive agreements with the country's soccer giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona for €1.1 billion and €1 billion, respectively, for seven seasons of rights.

As it stands now, Mediapro's free-to-air channel La Sexta airs a Saturday night match, while Sogecable's pay platform Digital Plus offers the remainder of the matches according to an agreement signed last year.

Sogecable's satellite platform Digital Plus holds pay TV rights, while its free-to-air channel, Cuatro, is barred from competing for the Saturday night match by antitrust laws.

Mediapro and Sogecable had agreed to share the rights in July following a deal struck with rights brokering company Audiovisual Sport, currently 80% controlled by Sogecable.

Sogecable says it will demand that Mediapro respects the contracts signed with Audiovisual Sport earlier this year that forbids it from acquiring rights on its own.

The move threatens Sogecable's cash cow, its dominance of pay TV soccer rights and sets the stage for a long-term rights war.

Mediapro -- which launched La Sexta a year ago -- has forked out a fortune in securing the spectrum of soccer club rights and will most likely charge handsomely for pay TV and VOD distribution rights, which Roures and others agree is their natural market.
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