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U.S. national soccer team players train at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday. If a deal can't be struck soon, AFN subscribers will be left to find alternative ways to watch the World Cup.
U.S. national soccer team players train at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday. If a deal can't be struck soon, AFN subscribers will be left to find alternative ways to watch the World Cup. (Elise Amendola/AP)

WIESBADEN, Germany — With the kickoff of the world’s biggest sporting event only days away, American Forces Network officials are still scrambling to secure broadcast rights for World Cup 2010.

The soccer tournament starts Friday when host South Africa plays Mexico in Johannesburg. The U.S. team takes on England on Saturday.

AFN has been working for 2½ years with FIFA — soccer’s governing body — along with its international television broadcast licensees for the rights to show the games to Americans living overseas, said Larry Sichter, AFN’s chief of affiliate relations.

“It’s a complicated process, involving numerous international television licensees who must waive their territorial exclusivity to FIFA in order to make room for [AFN] distribution of the same content within their respective jurisdictions,” Sichter said.

AFN officials would not discuss the status of current negotiations or how close they are to striking a deal. But getting the games for free is key.

Sichter said that AFN doesn’t pay rights fees for other professional and collegiate television sports programming. To make an exception for the World Cup would jeopardize AFN’s relationship with other sports federations, leagues and broadcast rights holders.

Four years ago, News Corp., which is run by Rupert Murdoch, brokered a deal that allowed AFN to show some World Cup matches. But News Corp. officials would not say if they are trying to do the same for this year’s tournament.

Some soldiers serving in Iraq are hoping they get the chance to see the games.

“Every four years, the world stops for 32 teams to play this sport,” said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Simione who is deployed to southern Baghdad with the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. “It’s something incredible that soldiers get a chance to see in addition to every other cultural nuance that happens while exposed to new places and people.”

If AFN can’t get the rights in time, Americans will have to look elsewhere to get their World Cup fix.

Options for overseas viewers include going to a local pub, although there’s no guarantee you’ll see the game you want, or watching on a local national television station.

Or you could find a streaming video feed on the Internet. Soldiers should be wary of downloading some media players to catch a game: The Army prohibits the use of streaming television for personal use on a government computer, said 5th Signal Command spokesperson Lawrence Torres III.

pattonm@estripes.osd.mil

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