Vodafone faces storm over Man United Internet rights

Vodafone’s record-breaking £30m sponsorship deal with Manchester United has been hit by a major row over who owns the football giant’s Internet rights.

The company’s plans to offer mobile phone text and audio services over the Web have been challenged by Kingfisher group-owned VCI, which owns the club’s exclusive publishing and video rights as part of a ten-year deal signed in 1996.

Vodafone believed it had secured the rights to show Man Utd’s games through the Net and on WAP phones as part of its four-year deal, which it hailed as a “ground-breaking agreement which goes beyond a pure shirt sponsorship”.

But when VCI executives studied their company’s contract they found it included all publishing, believed to cover the Net as well as video. They are now demanding compensation.

As part of the highly-lucrative contract, VCI produces all of Man Utd’s official videos and publications.

It has more than 50 videos in its back catalogue, including last year’s “Treble” release, which alone sold more than 300,000 copies – worth nearly £5m in sales.

One insider says: “It seems that Man Utd has sold the rights twice.”

Man Utd deputy chief executive Peter Kenyon, who struck the deal with Vodafone, was unavailable for comment.

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