Canal takes soccer rights issue to high court


PARIS -- French pay TV group Canal Plus has appealed to France's high court, the Tribunal de Grande Instance, to halt bidding on the rights to broadcast professional soccer league games until a decision has been made regarding protocol for the distribution of those rights at a scheduled Feb. 19 hearing.

In order to force its fusion with rival pay TV network TPS back in 2004, Canal Plus paid $2.6 billion for four soccer league packages. The French league now wants an even bigger paycheck and has split the 2008-2012 soccer seasons into 12 packages, instead of the four sold in 2004, in an effort to attract a larger number of broadcasters and thus, more money for its images.

The TGI will decide at a hearing next Wednesday whether or not bidding will stop until the court makes its decision on Feb. 19.

League reps are currently accepting bids until Jan. 22 and plan to make a decision on broadcasting rights Jan. 31, two weeks before the scheduled hearing.

However, "the Canal Plus group considers that the bidding cannot be conducted serenely while the judgement has yet to be made," Canal Plus said in a statement, adding, "Taking account of the importance of the stakes for all of the bidding candidates, the Canal Plus group is forced to ask the TGI to suspend bidding until the final judgement is made."

A second trial is underway at France's State Council, which will decide Friday if Canal Plus can indeed write off a controversial rule set by the country's pro soccer league, the LFP, which gives the league the right to produce its own images of soccer games.

Canal Plus wants to continue to film the matches themselves rather than purchasing an pre-filmed package.