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ETV buys broadcast rights with Pohlak’s money

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PHOTO: Urmas Luik / Pärnu Postimees

A record-breaking sum has been paid for the right to broadcast soccer in Estonia - television rights of the 2020 UEFA European Soccer Championship have been bought by public broadcaster ERR for well over one million euros, financed in large part by the Estonian Soccer Association run by Aivar Pohlak.

ERR obtained the TV rights to the championship to be held in 13 European countries this week. It is alleged the organization paid a record-breaking €1.2 million, which is nearly three times as much as has been dished out for the broadcasting rights of past tournaments.

ERR could not afford the rights on its own as the broadcaster’s supervisory board approved a total sports broadcasts budget of €1.2 million at the end of June with which ERR also has to broadcast athletics and ice hockey world championships.

ERR signed a specific purpose support contract with the association for €950,000. ERR television channel ETV will have to come up with the rest of the money. Chief TV sports editor at ERR Rivo Saarna said that the support sum is unprecedented.

«We have a contract with the association for €950,000, which does not mean they will necessarily contribute as much. That is the maximum amount,» Saarne added. He said that it is too soon to disclose exact support sums.

President of the soccer association Aivar Pohlak, who agrees that the sum is unheard-of, said the organization has five years to come up wit the money. «However, even if we look at it in yearly installments, the sum is unprecedented,» he said.

Saarna said ERR remained within the framework prescribed by the supervisory board in its bid. «We do not wish to jeopardize our position as concerns other rights we need to obtain by disclosing the sum. Were I to tell you what we’ll spend on soccer, it would be a matter of simple arithmetic to figure out the sums for athletics and hockey,» Saarna explained. He added that the exact sum can be disclosed once all three contracts have been signed.

Private media groups Eesti Meedia, owner of Kanal 2 and Postimees, and owner of TV3, MTG were also interested in the broadcast rights of the UEFA 2020 championship and two qualifying tournaments the Estonian national soccer team participates in. Eesti Meedia and ERR made it to the final round of bidding where Eesti Meedia would probably have had its way had the soccer association not come to the public broadcaster’s aid.

Saarna said that ERR wanted to continue its tradition of broadcasting soccer no matter what. «I see arguments in favor, whereas I see none against as ERR has been the broadcaster of major soccer tournaments and the Estonian team’s games and will be in the future - irrespective of the UEFA procurement - as the public broadcaster owns the world championship rights until 2022. It only makes sense for ERR to continue doing what it has always done - covering world class soccer,» Saarna said.

He added that ERR also wanted to maintain the tradition of showing the Olympic games: «However, because Eesti Meedia tripled the price, we had two options when it came to soccer, either to look on, or to do something about it. If it is possible to keep soccer on the public broadcaster’s screens, it is something we believe is necessary.»

Saarna said that whether to make support available is the prerogative of the sponsor, and that ERR did not dictate the sum.

«We wanted the best possible terminal for soccer. ETV, and later ERR, have been broadcasting the Estonian soccer team’s games and major championships for 25 years. It is our interest to make sure it stays that way,» said the soccer association’s PR and cooperation chief Mihkel Uiboleht. “Major sporting events that draw national interest belong on the public broadcaster’s channels,” he added.

«Private media has not matched how ERR broadcasts and produces world-class soccer. Private media has the UEFA Champions League; however, if we put the two broadcasts side by side, differences are evident,» Saarna explained.

In a situation where support from the Estonian Soccer Association came as a surprise to several members of the supervisory board, chairman Rein Veidemann told Postimees he was cursorily aware of the plan. Veidemann said, however, that he has no knowledge of the exact sum in question.

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