Problems afoot for soccer

TV rights revenue split questioned

Leo Kirch's €3 billion ($4.7 billion) deal to market the rights to Germany's Bundesliga could be in jeopardy after opposition from the country's cartel office.

The authorities question the legality of the agreement between Kirch's Sirius group and the German Soccer League (DFL). The cartel office has sent out a questionnaire to German clubs requesting financial details of the deal.

At issue is the league's practice of marketing TV rights for all German clubs — big and small — as one package. Rights revenue is then divided among teams, with the largest clubs getting the lion's share.

Cartel office chairman Ralph Langhoff has compared this "central marketing" practice to a price cartel and said it is unfair to smaller clubs. He has threatened to block the Kirch-DFL deal unless the practice is changed by, for example, giving smaller teams a bigger share of TV revenue.

That doesn't sit well with the big boys. Germany's No. 1 soccer team, Bayern Munich, claims that central marketing puts it on the back foot. Bayern, which earns about €25 million ($39 million) a season from its share of TV revenue, figures it could pull in €100 million ($155 million) or more if it sold the rights to its games on its own.

The cartel office investigation has pushed back the sale of Bundesliga rights, which was scheduled to begin last week. Without approval from the cartel office, Sirius can't begin to solicit offers from German networks, pay TV channels and cable providers.