Mediapro wins injunction after crying foul over exclusion from Copa del Rey auction
By Simon Ward
There are serious doubts over which Spanish broadcaster will show next weekend’s final of the Copa del Rey, the domestic soccer cup competition, after a judge ordered the RFEF, the national federation, to annul a concluded tender, and relaunch the process, while allowing sports rights and production company Mediapro to participate.
Mediapro had sought an injunction after it was excluded from the initial rights tender, won by public-service broadcaster TVE, and has secured backing in the commercial court in Madrid, it was announced today.
However, with the match between Barcelona and Valencia set to take place at the Benito Villamarin Stadium in Sevilla on Saturday, there are just five days to get new broadcasting arrangements in place.
The RFEF has yet to announce whether it will appeal against the judge’s ruling.
Citing the text of the decree, Mediapro, which has been showing matches from the earlier rounds of the Copa del Rey on its free-to-air digital terrestrial channel Gol, claimed that the RFEF’s decision to include a new clause that excluded it from the tender for the final gave rise to an abuse of a dominant position that amounted to discrimination.
It added that it is “a clause that is so unilaterally disproportionate to Spanish Law on public procurement criteria… without providing reasonably sufficient period to appeal” that it ensures the procurement contract conditions “produce the 'targeted' exclusion and inclusion" in what is a "flagrant abuse of the position of dominance held by the RFEF".”
Mediapro said the decree also defined the deadlines established by the federation for the awarding of the rights to the final as “unusual and unconventional haste for an event such as this.”
The reasons for Mediapro’s exclusion from the auction have not been fully explained, but are said to be based on a clause that rules out “companies or groups of companies that have been criminally sanctioned or have recognised their criminal liability” for crimes such as bribery.
The RFEF’s stance is thought to be based on the assertion that Mediapro was implicated in bribery as part of the Fifa-gate scandal, largely centred on the Americas, that erupted in 2015, an allegation vehemently refuted by the Barcelona-based company.
Last month, Mediapro vowed to take legal action over comments from federation president Luis Rubiales suggesting it was involved in paying bribes, insisting that neither itself, nor parent company Imagina Media Audiovisual “have been convicted of bribery, fraud or similar in any of the countries where they operate.”
Mediapro said of the court ruling: “This is the first judicial decision in the litigation Mediapro engaged in against the RFEF decisions and statements made by its president, designed to slander and jeopardising the Spanish audiovisual group.
“The severity of the decision handed down by Commercial Court No 12 in Madrid is an endorsement of what Mediapro had maintained from the outset; its complete competency to participate in RFEF tender award procedures or those of any other sports body.”
Under Spanish rules, the Copa del Rey final has to be shown live on free-to-air television in the country, and TVE won the rights in a deal reported to be worth around €3 million ($3.35 million), a similar figure to the one it paid last year.
Mediaset Espana, the commercial broadcaster, was said to be its only competitor in the second round of bidding, after counterpart Atresmedia withdrew after the first round, having decided not to increase its bid.
Because of the free-to-air requirements, Spanish rights to the final are sold separately from the rest of the Copa del Rey.
Gol has been the main home of the tournament up to the final in a three-year deal that expires at the end of this season.
However, it has sub-licensed rights to selected matches in this campaign to BeIN Sports LaLiga, the pay-TV service operated by BeIN Media Group and Mediapro, and TV3, the regional public-service broadcaster in Catalonia.
Following the injunction, Mediapro has said it will apply the same legal defence to prevent the RFEF also excluding it from a tender to provide video assistant referee services in Spain’s top two leagues from the 2019-20 to 2022-23 seasons.
That contract is thought to be worth around €25 million, and the federation had set a deadline of tomorrow for the submission of offers, in the anticipation of making an award after 3pm (CET).
LaLiga introduced VAR for the 2018-19 season, and Mediapro has been providing the supporting technology until now.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the RFEF is thought to have launched the VAR tender for next season onwards without the full co-operation of LaLiga as a wider regulatory agreement with the league is due to expire on 30 June, and the two sides have yet to reach accord on an extension in protracted negotiations.