Wireless Group threatens BBC over football rights

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The Independent Online

Kelvin Mackenzie's Wireless Group opened a new legal battle yesterday, threatening to sue the BBC and complaining to the European Commission over football rights.

The radio company, chaired by the pugnacious Mr MacKenzie, is already embroiled in a legal dispute with Rajar, the industry body that provides official measurements of audiences. That £60m case is scheduled to reach the High Court in the next few weeks.

Wireless launched an assault on the BBC and the Premier League over the way that rights for the current three-year deal for radio commentary were settled. The contract covers the season that has just begun and the following two.

According to Wireless, whose flagship station is talkSPORT, the BBC paid £39m for the rights to broadcast live commentary on its Five Live station "despite the fact that the nearest rival bidder offered just £2,550,000 for the radio rights".

Michael Franklin, the managing director of talkSPORT, said: "They didn't reveal the huge price paid - and no wonder, because we now know they have wasted tens of millions of fee-payers' money. The BBC are a negotiator's delight. When a sports rights holder asks for the money, then the BBC have a competition to see how quickly they can say yes on behalf of the licence payer."

Wireless said it had complained to the European Commission "who are investigating the matter and will make a decision on the anti-competitive nature of the deal". The company also said it was considering suing the BBC over the issue.

The BBC and the Premier League disputed the version of events put forward by Wireless, which claimed that the BBC had secured both rights parcels on offer as a package - a way of awarding rights that Brussels has in the past condemned.

The Premier League said that the rights were tendered in an "open and fair" process. A spokesman said: "The BBC bid most for both packages on an individual basis and accordingly were awarded the rights."

A spokeswoman for the BBC said it had paid "much less" than the figure quoted by Wireless. She added that the corporation had got more games than under the previous contract, also held by the BBC.

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