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Taj TV secures Lanka cricket rights for $50 million

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MUMBAI: Taj Television, holding company of Dubai-based sports broadcaster Ten Sports, has signed with Sri Lanka Cricket a broadcast rights deal that runs from January 2005 to 2008. The cost of the acquisition --- a whopping $ 50 million.

According to reports in the Sri Lanka media, Taj Television officials were supposed to have met SLC officials last evening to finalise the deal.

It was in June that SLC called for tenders for the TV rights. Taj Television, as the incumbent rights holder, had been allowed to match the best offer after the tenders closed. Among the international tenders that came in, the highest bid was $ 48 million, reportedly put in by Dubai-based digital satellite broadcaster ARY. The next highest bids were by sports marketing agency World Sport Group with $46.6 million and ESPN Star Sports with $40.6 million.

A point of note is that Taj Television and ARY, which broadcasts mainly in the Middle East and Europe, jointly hold the contract to broadcast Pakistan's home cricket matches in a $42.6-million deal that began last year and runs until 2008.

At $ 50 million, this is by far the highest ever amount Sri Lanka Cricket has obtained for broadcast rights. Even Taj TV's initial bid of $33.5 million was higher than any the SLC had ever received, which puts in perspective the size of the final sale. While Taj TV officials were unavailable for comment, it is to be assumed that the additional $ 2 million it paid out was to lock in subsidiary rights like broadband.

According to information available with indiantelevision.com, there were a total of 12 bidders that threw their hats in the ring for rights ranging from broadband telecast to in-stadia hoardings. Willow TV (broadband), Madison Outdoor Media Services (Moms), and even CBFS (the Sharjah event company that is also promoted by Taj TV owner Abdurrahman Bukhatir) were among those that bid.

The reason the rights went for such a high cost was largely because of one thing --- the guarantee of visits by India to the island nation. The SLC has managed to get the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to confirm three tours (which includes two triangulars) for the period the contract runs.

An immediate problem the $ 50-million "windfall" will allow the SLC to resolve is the compensation suite that World Sport Nimbus, the agency that held the international television rights to Sri Lankan cricket until 2001, won against it in a Singapore court of arbitration.

WSN reportedly won damages worth $ 7 million from the Singapore court over the premature termination of its contract.

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