Titans' goal: TV rights to German soccer

Disney, News Corp. among Bundesliga's suitors

COLOGNE, Germany -- It's a good thing sports betting is legal in Germany, because some of the world's biggest media companies -- including News Corp. and Disney -- are laying wagers on the MVP of German sports rights: Bundesliga soccer.

The Bundesliga doesn't usually generate this kind of attention. Inside Germany, the country's soccer-obsessed population makes the league a guaranteed viewer magnet. But outsiders rarely take notice.

That will all change Friday, when the German Soccer League, the DFL, opens bidding for the 2009-11 seasons. Some big names want to put down stakes in the German market, and they see the Bundesliga as their best way in.

It's a high-stakes game. The DFL will be looking for nearly 500 million euros ($645 million) a season for Bundesliga rights and will try to secure a three- or four-year agreement with its partners.

Disney is the newest player to the table. It wants to launch a German-language version of ESPN and is interested in bidding for Bundesliga rights. Insiders, however, suggest that talk of a Disney bid is being played up by the DFL to juice prices.

It's a different story with News Corp. Rupert Murdoch needs top German soccer if he is to rescue his investment in Premiere. Shares in the German pay TV group have collapsed since News Corp. acquired a 25% share in Premiere this year. The Bundesliga is Premiere's biggest draw. It is widely believed News Corp. is considering a multiyear bid for both pay and free-TV rights to the league.

Such a deal could set Murdoch back about $2 billion but might give him the leverage he needs to rebuild Premiere and establish a beachhead in Germany.
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