Sportfive to challenge Premiere for Bundesliga

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COLOGNE, Germany -- French sports rights group Sportfive plans to challenge local giant Premiere in bidding for Germany's top soccer league.

Sportfive, which is controlled by French group Legardere, will join the bidding for the 2009-12 seasons of Germany's Bundesliga when the rights come up for renewal later this fall, according to Lars P. Reckwitz, vp of marketing at German subsidiary Sportfive GmbH.

"We already have 10 Bundesliga teams under contract and so we have an interest in doing something to combat the monoculture (of Premiere) in the German television landscape," Reckwitz said. "So it is clear that we will bid for these soccer rights."

Sportfive, which among other rights, is the marketing partner for Euro 2008, the European soccer championships, is looking to expand its German business.

Currently, the French group operates an IP-TV service in Germany, sportdigital.tv. On Oct. 1, that service will go wide, with Sportfive launching a digital pay TV channel on the new Entavio satellite platform.

With Sportfive and Legardere entering the Bundesliga field, the pressure is on Premiere to outmaneuver its rivals. Munich-based rights group EM.TV, which controls nationwide sports channel DSF, also is expected to fight for the rights.

In soccer-mad Germany, the Bundesliga forms the foundation of Premiere's pay TV business. Premiere shares collapsed and the company almost followed suit after the group lost the rights to upstart pay channel Arena last year.

Premiere managed to recapture the Bundesliga via an expensive sub-licensing deal with Arena parent Unity Media. Under the agreement, Premiere will pay, in a mix of cash and stock, about $500 million for two seasons of German soccer.

The asking price for upcoming seasons could go even higher as more competitors enter the fray.

New Premiere CEO Michael Bornicke already has approved a €250 million ($348 million) share issue to help finance the company's upcoming bid. Premiere executives are currently crisscrossing Europe trying to convince institutional investors to pony up.
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