Coverage of next year's World Cup on the BBC and ITV was enveloped in controversy yesterday after the German rights holders appealed to UK competition authorities about the sale of the tournament's television broadcasts.
Prisma, owned by German media mogul Leo Kirch, has written to the Office of Fair Trading to complain that the BBC and ITV are acting as a cartel by negotiating together for live UK broadcasting rights to all the 2002 matches.
Sources close to the broadcasters said they tabled a bid of around £60m for the World Cup rights in April but Prisma has been holding out for £170m for the UK rights after paying £820m for the global television rights.
Should the OFT find the BBC and ITV guilty of collusion, it could fine the broadcasters up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover – or around £450m.
But that outcome is thought unlikely as government legislation requires that all World Cup games be available to terrestrial television broadcasters.