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Volume 6 No. 212


English cricket lovers face being "deprived of overseas commentary from BBC Radio's iconic Test Match Special programme for the first time in almost 40 years because greedy Indian administrators are holding them to ransom," according to Peter Hayter of the London DAILY MAIL. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has "broken with convention" by demanding the BBC pay an extra £50,000 ($80,485) to cover the costs of broadcast facilities during the upcoming Test series between England and India. Meanwhile, Sky Television has been told it must pay almost £500,000 ($804,850). Both broadcasters "insist the fees were not mentioned" by the BCCI when the agreements to cover the series were finalized six weeks ago. At that time, Sky also signed a deal to cover Test cricket in India for the next six years. It is looking more and more likely that Test Match Special, "considered by many to be the soundtrack to the game since its inception in '57, will fall quiet this winter, depriving hundreds of thousands of devoted fans of commentary" from Jonathan Agnew, Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell. If the probelm is not resolved, Sky intends to "graft the words" of Ian Botham, David Gower, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain, commentating in a West London studio, on to pictures fed by Indian host broadcaster Star Sports. But the BBC is "unlikely to follow Sky's example" (DAILY MAIL, 10/27).

LENDING A HAND: In London, Nick Hoult reported that England and Wales Cricket Board Chair Giles Clark is "in talks with the Indian board" to try to solve a dispute with British broadcasters. Clarke has contacted BCCI Chair N Srinivasan to "thrash out a deal." However, if he fails, both broadcasters will be "reduced to providing commentary from studios in England." Sources have indicated that broadcasters "fear setting a precedent" if they cave to the Indian board’s last-minute demands. No other board has ever asked for money to provide commentary positions, and both broadcasters "feel the rights fees covered the provision of full facilities" (TELEGRAPH, 10/25). In Dubai, Osman Samiuddin opined that the BCCI is legally not "violating any stipulation." Some will "probably even applaud" the organization's sharpness in spotting an opportunity to make more money. Except that "this is not really about money." It is actually about the BCCI making money to "show that the ability to generate it endlessly also grants them the right to not just exercise, but to actively show off the power of that money: it is a naked show of strength." Furthermore, it is also about the BCCI's "overbearing control of the game, a control that envelops what people can say on air about a match being played in India." Finally, Samiuddin wrote, "If Sky's commentators are going to come here and raise issues we do not want raised, the BCCI seem to be saying, then they are at least going to pay us for the privilege" (THE NATIONAL, 10/28).

Play is "well under way" in the next round of TV sports broadcast rights negotiations in Australia, with cricket, tennis, football and V8 Supercars all in play, according to Sally Jackson of THE AUSTRALIAN. The new deals signed by the Australian Football League and National Rugby League over the past 18 months have "lifted price expectations sky high." The last time the Nine Network sat down to negotiate with Cricket Australia, seven years ago, the cricket TV rights went for an estimated A$320M. That contract expires at the end of March, and if Nine fails to strike a new one by the end of December, rivals Seven and Ten "will be free to sit at the table." Meanwhile, Ten and Nine are reported to have signaled their interest in the rights to the V8 Supercars, with Seven's current six-year deal coming to a close at the end of this year. There has been speculation the V8 outfit would like to double its previous agreement. The V8s are "reportedly aiming in the region" of A$350M ($362.7M) for their next deal. Another hot property is tennis rights, which include the Australian Open and the Davis Cup. Seven has them until '14 and is believed to be "determined to retain them." It is believed Tennis Australia will be "looking for at least a 25% increase" on the A$100M Seven is estimated to have paid for its current five-year deal (THE AUSTRALIAN, 10/29).

Telecom company BT has "bolstered its plan to become a heavyweight sports broadcaster," with a number of deals to show live matches from top-tier int'l football leagues, according to Katherine Rushton of the London TELEGRAPH. The company, which shocked rivals in June with a £738M ($1.2B) gamble on the EPL, has struck deals for "hundreds" of live matches from Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Brasileiro. It has also secured live rights to Major League Soccer games in the U.S. BT will use the matches to help "beef up a new sports channel that will be launched next summer." In addition to the Premier League deal, BT has also signed a £152M ($244.7M) deal to show Premiership Rugby. The move will put new pressure on rival BSkyB, which has "built its empire on top-tier football rights and was caught off-guard by BT’s entry into the market." BSkyB now faces the prospect that BT will use its new TV service to "win over BSkyB customers." BT "is still in talks with production firms," including ITV Studios, IMG Media and Tinopolis, over which company will produce the sports channel (TELEGRAPH, 10/27).

NBC Universal has emerged as the clear front-runner in the race to pick up U.S. rights to the EPL as part of a three-year deal starting with the '13-14 season, according to multiple informed sources. NBC Universal would not return repeated phones calls seeking comment. EPL is expected to make a formal announcement early next week, but sources paint a picture that has NBC in the final stages of a bidding process that started just last week and involved the biggest network groups in the U.S. Sources say NBC's bid would pay the EPL around $83M per year, an amount that would more than triple the $23M per year that Fox currently pays. Sources say Fox and ESPN have been told that their joint bid was not accepted. It is not clear if the al-Jazeera network, BeIN Sport, still is in the running.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: The emergence of NBC Universal as the clear front-runner in this bidding process comes as a surprise. In the weeks leading up to the bidding process, NBC sources downplayed the company's interest. NBC's bid faced a lot of strong competition. The EPL last sold its rights three years ago to Fox Soccer, which wound up sub-licensing about 80 games per season to ESPN. The two submitted a similar bid this week. Terms of the deal are not known, but a source described Fox/ESPN's losing bid as aggressive. Friday morning was the deadline for submitting the new bids to the EPL. The loss of the EPL could sting Fox Soccer, which relies heavily on EPL matches and analysis shows for programming.