How we kept our hands on football's greatest prize

BBC and ITV last week secured the TV rights for the next two World Cups for a reported fee of £160m. Peter Salmon, the BBC's Director of Sport, reveals how the final deal was done
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It is the bizarre and incongruous stuff of deal-making that is so memorable: the Banana Splits ring tone on the ITV chief negotiator's phone connecting him to his Carlton and Granada shareholders; the BBC and ITV "choir" singing The Undertones' "My Perfect Cousin" as the team headed home to Munich Airport with the deal done; ITV's Brian Barwick breaking Herr Kirch's water cooler as we fumbled towards a deal. Surrounded by bratwurst, coffee, Bavarian mineral water and the other debris of hours of negotiating, it seemed a long way from Manchester and that first dramatic footballing moment two weeks earlier.

Why had David Beckham's last-gasp goal against Greece left me with a sinking feeling? As I danced around Old Trafford I could not help feeling things were about to get a bit hotter. Here was the youngest, most talented England side for generations; a World Cup tournament on the other side of the world just eight months away; tabloid hysteria about Sven and his miracle football cure. And the little matter of the 64 listed-by-Parliament football matches that could not be guaranteed for the British viewer. At least not yet.

Just 48 hours later I was in Bavaria at the corporate headquarters of the all-powerful European broadcasting and rights conglomerate, Kirch Media. They had paid a reported £2bn to Fifa, the game's world governing body, to market the rights and was having a tough time getting his money back. A tapestry of deals across Europe and South America had further increased the pressure.

Kirch was demanding £175m from the UK for the 2002 World Cup. Between us, the BBC and ITV had bid £55m. The matches, in South Korea and Japan, would be played live in the mornings (BST), most of them on weekdays, and though listed events legislation compelled Kirch to place the rights on free-to-air television, it had threatened to black out the tournament.

As the transmission deadline loomed, we knew the pressure would increase. How could the BBC and ITV not show our boys on the world stage? How come Germany and Spain had already settled? Were we not we just being stingy? And back at BBC Sport, my production team were asking if they could book hotels, facilities and staff.

We thought it was no coincidence that Kirch, after many months of non-negotiation with the BBC and ITV team (Dominic Coles, the BBC's chief sports rights negotiator, me, Brian Barwick, ITV's Head of Sport, and Simon Johnson, the chief negotiator) had fixed a date to open discussions just 48 hours after England's home match with Greece. Their qualification for the World Cup – however chaotic – had not really been in doubt. That is the thing about negotiation: one side needs momentum, the other brings pressure.

So why had Kirch come to the table at all? Our best guess hinged around the twin forces of market and political pressure. After 11 September, markets were tumbling and broadcasters around the world were feeling the consequences of falling revenue. Time was running out as the next World Cup broadcasters' summit loomed, and so were Kirch's options. Kirch had been to the House of Lords, lobbied Parliament and even complained to the Office of Fair Trading. Things were not going his way.

British law on listed events is strict and wide-ranging for the World Cup: all 64 matches must be carried live on universally available television. Highlights can be sold off to a more niche broadcaster, but ITV and the BBC had made it clear that any such sale would reduce our main offer drastically, those rights being central to our peak-time offering.

And then there was Fifa. Imagine its embarrassment, tucked away in its mountain hideout, looking on as national governments and politicians of all persuasions questioned its sanity in jeopardising the World Cup, that most glorious of competitions. Especially as its Swiss neighbours at the International Olympic Committee had made such a great success of the freely-available Sydney Olympics. And whatever anyone tells you, football is not short of a bob or two...

So the very first visit to Munich was an eye-opener. Brian Barwick and I must have sounded like speaking clocks, reiterating how we had reached our offer of £55m, over and over again. It must have been very boring, with Kirch's team of four attacking and counter-attacking our position from every angle – until the bombshell. And I do not mean Brian's admission – he is from a dodgy part of Liverpool – that he loves S Club 7.

Kirch offered, at a little prompting from us, to open discussions about the 2006 World Cup, to be played in their home territory of Germany, the absolute plum footballing tournament of the early 21st century. All matches would be in the evening at peak-time: probably worth a fortune, it was most definitely their biggest money-spinner.

We tried not to show our enthusiasm too openly and I tried a feeble, nervous joke. "Still at least the German team will qualify for that one," I suggested, reflecting on their national side's pitiful showing for 2002 and the fact that, as hosts, they would automatically qualify for 2006. It did not go down well. The Teutonic sense of humour could only stand so much.

Perhaps that was why I found myself ostracised over lunch in a Munich beer garden. I had meant to order venison but ended up with fish, and every time we tried to move the discussion on, the church bells would chime loudly. Good omen or bad, it was not until coffee and more halting but polite conversation that the Kirch team put their offer on the table. It was what we had hoped for: 2002 as well as 2006 and not just an option on the latter, like their own German broadcasters had, but the whole deal. It was an unprecedented move that would change the way negotiators would have to behave in France and Italy, Kirch's remaining target nations.

Like lunch, the deal was still too rich, and as we mooched around the pretty German village we had to think of a way of reducing their expectations. We hit on a clever solution. We would go home. It always works. A few days later, a German away fixture in London at Claridges: it was friendly, open and they clearly meant business; we just had to manage their expectations.

And then on to the clinching negotiations. Brian Barwick and I made our usual 5.30am dash to the airport, timed to meet Coles and Johnson, who were already over in Germany for a European Broadcasting Union conference. We met them at Munich airport for a quick shot of caffeine. Brian and I had plotted the approach and one thing was certain: if we did not do the deal that very day, the energy and momentum would be lost, we would forfeit the goodwill we had generated, our bosses back home would feel insecure, the world's markets might take another tumble and perhaps the 2006 prize – the very target that made the pain of 2002 seem bearable – would recede.

In an airless conference room, surrounded by stern secretaries and even sterner bosses, we rocked the deal backwards and forwards. Payment schedules, interactive TV rights, World Service territories and Fifa's logo ambitions were all fed into the negotiations' mincer. We met together, separately, in corridors, toilets. Kirch's chief UK negotiator was heard chanting: "Just put your money up, put your money up". Dominic Coles and I got to visit the private, secure wing of the building used by the elusive and secretive Herr Kirch himself – austere, neat, a bit forbidding. We imagined the real Herr Kirch to be at home in a Bavarian schloss wired into the negotiations, moving pieces around his world chess board.

And then, with an hour to go, the deal was done: BBC Radio rights were in, sponsorship details were negotiable, Fifa's imperial stings were discretionary and pride, honour and finance were reasonably in balance. We had secured 2002 and 2006 for less than the reported starting price for negotiations for 2002 alone: a good price, we reckoned, given the cost of football rights in the global market, one that ITV's shareholders and the BBC's Board could live with.

It had been a Germany v England clash to remember and as the minibus rattled towards Munich airport to the strains of another Undertones number, I turned to Dominic Coles and said: "Right then, Friday, Dublin, Six Nations. That's next." His howl of anguish echoed through the Bavarian night. Not even the Banana Splits ring tone lightened his mood.

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