Italy stand firm on World Cup TV rights

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The Independent Online

Six months before the 2002 World Cup kicks off, Italy remains one of the last hold-outs in the multimillion dollar negotiations for broadcast rights to the much anticipated contest in Japan and South Korea.

Though most believe a deal to televise the matches will ultimately be reached, negotiators are hardening their positions – raising the risk that millions of Italian fans could be deprived of live broadcasts of the tournament.

"It seems wise to me to not give in to...those who make up prices 14 times higher than the last World Cup," Italy's Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri said this week when asked about state-owned broadcaster RAI's stalled talks to acquire the TV rights. "You can't just throw people's money away."

In 1996, the German broadcaster Kirch paid a record $2 billion (£1.3m) for global rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, after Fifa's with the European Broadcasting Union expired.

Last month, France finally broke its deadlocked negotiations when the television channel TF1 bought the exclusive French broadcast rights in a deal worth $168m and which also included 24 games for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Paolo Francia, a leading member of RAI's negotiating team, noted that the time difference would probably decrease viewership and said that Italy should pay a price similar to the French deal. "In the last meeting, Kirch asked 220 billion lire (£71m) for 26 games," Francia said. "That's an inflated figure."

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