Spanish soccer war hots up

From David Del Valle in Madrid

The dispute between Sogecable, owner of Cuatro and Digital Plus, and Mediapro, shareholder in TV channel La Sexta, over football TV rights has intensified following the decision of Audiovisual Sport, the Sogecable-controlled company that manages the football rights to suspend providing football broadcasts to Mediapro over nonpayment of fees worth E 58 million.

Audiovisual Sport has also accused Mediapro of failing to comply with other unspecified contractual obligations. “Audiovisual cannot tolerate this situation any longer” the group said adding that it has started legal proceedings against Mediapro. “As soon as Mediapro pays and complies with the rest of its obligations to Audiovisual, this company will resume provision of the signal to Mediapro… and withdraw the legal suit it has been obliged to file,” Audiovisual said.

Mediapro responded by threatening to block broadcasts on Sogecable’s pay-TV service, Digital+. “The grave and unilateral decision taken by Sogecable and its managers … without doubt is going to signal a drastic and substantial reduction of matches that will be broadcast by pay-TV,” Mediapro said in a statement. Up to now La Sexta has shown one match per weekend on its free-to-air TV station and Sogecable the remainder on pay-TV and pay-per-view.

The battle for the soccer rights intensified this summer after Mediapro announced it had signed media rights for 12 clubs in La Liga for 2008-09 season. Mediapro also said in July that it had struck a deal with 39 of the 42 clubs in the first and second divisions to show their games in the 2009-10 season. Sogecable, which has held first and second division rights for a number of seasons, has said Mediapro’s agreements with clubs breach contracts already in place and has said it will challenge them in the courts.

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