Playing to Win

Germany has been soundly thrashed, Albania defeated and, David Beckham having famously found the Greeks' Achilles heel, England are on their way to the World Cup Finals in Japan and South Korea making Sven Goran Eriksson a candidate for honorary British citizenship.

Already millions of armchair fans are anticipating settling in front of their television sets for a summer of football. But they may have been in for a disappointment!

Until the recent success of a joint BBC/ITV bid to televise the competition in the UK, the highly complex world of the marketing of broadcasting rights for major sporting events looked like it had claimed another victim in the World Cup 2002. Britain's broadcasters had been unable to agree a deal to televise the games from Japan and South Korea. Negotiations with the rights holders had broken down. The European Court and the Office of Fair Trading had been called in to adjudicate.

It seems inconceivable that football fans in the UK were almost unable to follow the fortunes of a resurgent England team but, as ever, money was at the root of the problem. It highlights the fact that the marketing of broadcasting rights for international events is far from straightforward. There is no 'best policy' in this area and many of the governing bodies for the world's largest events favour different solutions.

All 64 matches of the World Cup are 'listed events' and covered by Government legislation designed to prevent them being bought up exclusively by a pay-tv broadcaster.

BBC and ITV jointly offered £50 million to televise the tournament. However, the deal eventually struck sees the two broadcasters winning the rights to both the 2002 finals and the 2006 finals in Germany for a combined price of £160 million. The time-lag between the UK and Japan and South Korea means that live matches will be played at a time when most Britons are at work and so they have a lower value in the UK. The bidders' bargaining position was also strengthened by the fact that the UK legislation on 'listed events' excluded other competitors from the race. The combined price has been described as daylight robbery by some industry figures.

Although this figure dwarfs the £5.4 million paid to televise France '98, it is still £10 million less than the current rights holders - Prisma Sport and Media, a subsidiary of the German media company, Kirch Group - were originally asking for the rights to this summer's finals alone.

The impasse the two sides...

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