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ERR paid close to €15 million for soccer rights

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PHOTO: Kuvatõmmis videost

Chairman of the board of public broadcaster (ERR) Erik Roose and head of the sports desk Rivo Saarna gave explanations to the organization’s council yesterday regarding the Estonian Soccer Association’s donation and disclosed the total cost of the television rights obtained with its help.

Roose told Postimees that the final price is €1,336,000 plus VAT. Saarna said that the rights include the 2020 European championship, qualifiers, and nations’ league cycle games. The procurement covers all games of the Estonian national team in 2018-2021 that Saarna said number at least 40.

Even though the number of games is higher, the sum is nevertheless unprecedented in Estonia. Television rights of past championships have cost several times less.

“Expensive soccer, so to speak, is cheaper than producing a domestic TV series, while it has three times the viewers,” Roose told Postimees. He believes the broadcaster has not overpaid for the rights. He added that while the price has gone up, it is still cheap compared to what is charged in Western Europe.

“The tiny size of our market meant we had it very cheap in the past,” Roose said.

The competition was fierce as the rights also interested the owner of commercial television channel TV3, MTG, as well as Eesti Meedia group that owns Postimees and Kanal 2.

Roose admitted that the fixed purpose donation of €950,000 from the Estonian Soccer Association will cover the lion’s share of the €1.5 million to be paid. Postimees wrote in late July how ERR used money from the association, ran by Aivar Pohlak, to secure the rights.

ERR lacked the funds itself as its council approved a total television rights budget of €1.2 million in late June. Using this, ERR must also broadcast athletics and ice hockey world championships. And so the soccer association came to the public broadcaster’s aid.

The colossal sum was acknowledged by president of the association Aivar Pohlak who said the organization has five years to come up with the money. “However, even in yearly installments the sum is probably unprecedented,” Pohlak said. The association said it wanted to keep major sporting events on the public broadcaster’s channels as ERR has always been the one to broadcast soccer.

Some members of ERR’s council have voiced criticism of the board’s decision to accept a donation of €950,000 from the association. For example, Krista Aru and Agu Uudelepp had to read about the million euro donation from the media in a situation where they believe they should have been consulted prior to the decision being made.

Grumblings have subsided since the council’s sitting yesterday, and council chairman Rein Veidemann said the council has approved the donation. “There was no criticism, members were satisfied with the decision to obtain the rights,” Veidemann said.

Roose explained that fixed-purpose donations do not have to move through the council at all. “The council does oversee special purpose sponsorship and advertising decisions. However, we need to differentiate between sponsorship and advertising permits and fixed-purpose donations,” he said. Roose added that the conditions of the donation state it holds no obligations for ERR.

Veidemann said, however, that the council has received a letter stating that Eesti Meedia has contested the use of the major donation for the purpose of procuring broadcast rights. Eesti Meedia, that owns Postimees, has ordered a legal expert opinion regarding soccer television rights based on which it has turned to the competition board and court. CEO Sven Nuutmann said the step is aimed at achieving legal clarity regarding such transactions.

“It means nothing for us; however, we will of course consult our lawyers,” Rein Veidemann said.

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