Fans and players losing out in TV rights war, say coaches

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MADRID, Oct 27 (Reuters) Primera Liga coaches have criticised short-notice changes to weekend fixtures caused by the ongoing dispute between rival broadcasters over television rights to matches.

Real Madrid's game at home to Deportivo Coruna was shifted from to night to tomorrow afternoon with less than two day's notice and Athletic Bilbao's fixture at home to Real Betis was moved from 1800 to 2000 GMT today to fill the vacant television slot.

''It's a joke. My family were going to come to Madrid to see me. They had the ticket and now it is useless because they can't go on Sunday,'' Depor coach Miguel Angel Lotina was quoted as saying in Spanish daily Marca today.

''There will be many fans from La Coruna, with fixed tickets, who won't be able to go to the Bernabeu, either. We are in the middle of a television war and we're in their hands.'' La Coruna is approximately 600 kilometres from the capital, on the north-west coast.

Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros said: ''We should know what time we are playing right up to the last game of the league, all this should be planned. Those who lose out in this madness of time changes are the fans and the professionals.'' Betis have to make a round trip of approximately 1720 km from Seville in the south, to Bilbao on the north coast and back.

The dispute surfaced at the start of the season, when Sogecable, which owns the rights to games involving most of the Spanish league's clubs, decided to cut off Mediapro's signal for their weekly free-to-air match because of an unpaid debt.

Mediapro denied the debt existed and, taking advantage of the fact that it handles television production for many clubs, it increased the number of free live weekend matches it transmitted to three, undermining Sogecable's pay-TV operations.

On October 9, a judge ordered Mediapro to cut its broadcasts back to one live match a week as a precautionary measure while the dispute is settled by the courts.

However, the two braodcasters continue to argue publicly about who has rights to what.

REUTERS PDS MIR KP1738

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