European television rights up for grabs

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The Independent Online

After its record $2.2bn (£1.3bn) deal with NBC for United States rights to the 2010 winter and 2012 summer Olympics, the International Olympic Committee is changing the way it sells television rights to the rest of the world.

The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said the committee will follow the same system it used in the US rights negotiations and throw open the bidding to all interested broadcasters for auction. The move will have particular impact in Europe, where Olympic rights have traditionally been granted in a bloc to the European Broadcasting Union, a consortium of networks including the BBC. The EBU has held European rights for every Olympics since 1960.

The decision introduces the possibility of the IOC selling rights on a country-by-country basis, including to satellite companies such as British Sky Broadcasting. "We want an open and fair competition," Rogge said. "Everyone will be allowed to bid. We will have an auction with sealed envelopes."

In June, in Lausanne, NBC won the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games with a bid 30 per cent higher than the fee it paid for the 2006 and 2008 Games after submitting a sealed bid in competition with ABC and Fox.

The EBU - which represents 49 countries - paid a total of $578m for rights to the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing - $135m and $443m, respectively. The 2010 Winter Games will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia. With six European cities in the bidding, European broadcasters will be particularly interested in winning the rights for 2012.

"The EBU is one option," the IOC's marketing director, Michael Payne, said. "It has been one of our very strong partners, but nobody should assume it's the only option. We are looking at all the options."

The rights for Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Asia, South America and Africa will also be up for sale. Rogge said he hopes some deals will be completed by next summer's Olympics.

The IOC said it will continue with its policy that primary coverage must be free-to-air. But Payne noted that many subscription or pay-TV broadcasters in Europe - including BSkyB - are switching to digital systems and could eventually be considered in the free category.