In a rare display of unity brought about by mutual need, the UK’s two largest TV broadcasters, the publicly-owned BBC and commercial rival ITV Network, have at last concluded a deal with German media mammoth Kirch Gruppe, the holder of a global broadcast rights monopoly on the 2002 and 2006 soccer World Cups.

In a protracted dispute, which also involved the UK government, Kirch originally insisted that the UK rights would be granted to the highest bidder and demanded £170 million for the 2002 event alone – a sum that would make economic sense only to a pay-per-view broadcaster such as BSkyB.

The British government then intervened on the grounds that under UK law the World Cup is a ‘listed event’ and must therefore be shown on free-to-view TV. Kirch promptly complained without success to the European Court of Justice – a situation leaving it with just two options: deprive the soccer-crazy UK market of its footie-fix and bid auf Wiedersehen to all those crisp British pounds; or do a deal with the two free-to-view channels.

Given that Kirch needed to recoup the £670m it had stumped-up for the rights to both events, the miserly £160m placed on the table by the Brit broadcasters suddenly seemed attractive. It is likely that that other recalcitrant European broadcasters will adopt the same line with Kirch.

As ever, a politician decided to muscle-in on the act. Implying, if not actually claiming, credit for the successful conclusion of the UK deal, British sports minister Richard Caborn puffed: “We have said consistently that football fans in Britain have a right to view World Cup matches on terrestrial television and that's what will happen. This agreement is to be welcomed.”

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