Rupert Murdoch brushed off his media scandals yesterday with a spectacular coup to maintain his grip on Britain's pay-TV market.
BSkyB, the television company in which Mr Murdoch's News Corp has a controlling stake, clinched a £3bn deal for the right to show the lion's share of top English football matches for another three years.
The deal with the Premier League's 20 clubs, which will give Mr Murdoch the right to show 116 live matches per season, was hailed as a crucial strategic coup for the company.
In 1996, Mr Murdoch described sport as the "battering ram" of his broadcasting ambitions.
This continued market dominance comes at a price, however – the £3bn outlay is 70 per cent higher than the previous agreement with English football's top clubs three years ago.
The Premier League deal also sees the entry into the football broadcasting market of BT, which has bought the rights to 38 live games per season; these will be shown on a new multi-platform sports channel.
The size of the price tag shocked even Peter Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League. He credited the frenzy of worldwide interest generated by the astonishing climax of the last Premier League season, when Manchester City sensationally pipped rivals Manchester United to the title, as a factor in upping the ante in a "complicated" and sealed bidding process. "We couldn't have gone to market at a better time," he said. He refused to discuss the involvement in the process of Al Jazeera, which is funded by the government of Qatar, hosts of the 2018 World Cup.
The scale of the domestic rights deal raises the prospect of a further cash bonanza when the Premier League negotiates its next set of global broadcasting rights, and Mr Scudamore said he suspected that club chairmen would be hoping for another 70 per cent increase in money.
BSkyB won five of the seven packages and has the rights to show games on Saturday evenings, Sunday lunch-times, Sunday evenings and Monday evenings, allowing the satellite broadcaster to further develop its Monday Night Football brand. Mr Scudamore emphasised the importance of the Premier League's relationship with Mr Murdoch's company.
"The continuing support of BSkyB is significant beyond the revenues delivered," he said.
"The longevity and quality of their commitment has done much for the English game as a whole. We are very happy to see this relationship maintained for another three seasons."