BBC protest leads to Sky U-turn over football deal

The prospect of England's forthcoming internationals against Brazil, Italy and France becoming Britain's first pay-per-view football events appeared certain last night after a bizarre day of broadcasting politics.

In mid-afternoon it was revealed that Sky, which owns the rights to all matches in next month's Tournoi de France, had refused BBC Radio 5 Live access to commentate on the matches after the most cursory of negotiations.

Mike Lewis, controller of BBC Radio sports rights, said: "Sky are not prepared to do any sort of deal. I made an offer, but it was never discussed. They stalled and stalled then said: `We're simply not prepared to do a deal with you'.

"I understand Capital Radio [the other station which regularly covers England matches] have been told the same."

Then it emerged that Sky was dealing instead with independent companies who had put together programmes to be sold to individual commercial stations. This is how the Pepsi Network chart show is produced and sold. This was seen as a way of maximising potential pay-per-view income while minimising public outcry. Allowing the matches to be broadcast meant Sky could defend the use of pay-per-view in the knowledge that it was not competing with Radio 5 Live, a well-resourced station which football fans are in the habit of listening to.

At this point Sky, which has profited from pay-per-view coverage on the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno fight and Naseem Hamed's bouts, refused to confirm buying the rights.

However, as the BBC's protests sparked a flurry of press inquiries and the Football Association made their views "abundantly clear", to Sky the channel suddenly performed an apparent U-turn. Its press office began calling journalists with the statement: "Radio rights for the Tournoi will be made available to all UK radio stations free of charge."

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