Mediapro ordered to pay damages to Sogecable

In long-running feud over Spanish professional soccer rights

MADRID -- Spanish television giant Sogecable won the first round in the bitter soccer war with rival media group Mediapro Thursday when a regional Madrid court agreed Mediapro had breached a 2006 contract and ordered it pay damages to Sogecable.

Mediapro said it would appeal the judgment.

Thursday's sentence orders Mediapro to pay €97 million ($132.6 million) to Audiovisual Sport, the sports rights holding in which Sogecable has an 80% stake, for not honoring a 2006 contract signed that promised Sogecable access to the Spanish professional soccer league matches.

The $132.6 million in the accumulative damages for the seasons from 2006/2007 through February 2008, the period referred to in the suit.

"The sentence made public today is absolutely not a firm judgment," a spokesperson for Mediapro said. "It has a long road to go before becoming judicially firm."

Mediapro owns most of the professional league's broadcast rights including the coveted rights to titans Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, which it pulled out from under pay TV stalwart Sogecable in 2006, unleashing a heated soccer war. Authorities stepped in to safeguard the public's right to watch the Spanish league's games and the two camps have been reluctantly divvying up the most lucrative matches throughout the season.

Mediapro airs games on its free-to-air channel La Sexta. Sogecable broadcasts one match on its pay channel Canal Plus Sunday nights. Both Sogecable and Mediapro have pay channels dedicated to pay-per-view games, where most analysts agree the market for the coveted rights can be best utilized.

Sogecable offers its soccer channel on its satellite platform Digital Plus and Mediapro via its terrestrial digital channel GolTV.