BSkyB wins Premier League clash

Satellite broadcaster pays pounds 670m to show top-flight matches as fears grow that hooligans are ready for battle
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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB last night won the exclusive rights to televise live Premier League matches until the year 2001, with a knock- out bid worth pounds 670m over four years.

League officials immediately dubbed the deal Britain's biggest ever TV rights sale.

Separately, the BBC clinched highlight rights for a record pounds 73m over four years, ensuring the survival of Match of the Day until the turn of the century.

The results ended several weeks of feverish speculation about the television future of Britain's top sport, in a race to the finish that featured some of the country's best-known media moguls.

Sky's offer beat a rival bid from Mirror Group and Michael Green's Carlton Communications, which offered pounds 650m over five years, along with a promise to share windfall revenues with the 20 clubs of the League. Also rejected was a 10-year bid from Lord Hollick's MAI-United, which might have given the clubs as much as pounds 1.5bn. Both rivals had promised to televise the matches on cable and satellite.

In the end, the clubs elected to stay with Sky, which has broadcast live matches of the Premiership since 1992. The football deal helped turn BSkyB into Britain's most profitable broadcaster, and Mr Murdoch, its 40 per cent owner, had been widely expected to bid as much as it took to secure the new contract.

Sam Chisholm, chief executive of BSkyB and a close Murdoch lieutenant, said: "We're delighted that we won. This is a partnership that has been enormously successful, and we now intend to redouble our efforts to make it even more so."

The new deal is worth four times the current contract, and includes a promise to discuss the introduction of pay-per-view in two years' time. It is the prospect of as much as pounds 2.5bn in revenues from PPV that has helped drive the price of broadcast rights to record levels.

"Competition was intense but in the end we are delighted to be continuing our highly successful partnership with Sky and BBC," said Rick Parry, chief executive of the Premier League. He added that "the BSkyB offer was the best package for clubs and fans alike."

The Mirror camp expressed bitter disappointment at the outcome.

Kelvin MacKenzie, chief negotiator for the Mirror/Carlton consortium, said: "It's tough to deal with a monopoly," referring to BSkyB's stranglehold on the British pay-TV market through its multichannel film, sport and entertainment offerings. Asked whether money decided the outcome, he responded curtly: "It looks like it."

After a day of presentations from the three bidders, and two-hours of deliberation by club chairmen, it was left to Arsenal's Peter Hill-Wood to sum up the results in a succinct phrase: "It's a lot of money."

Overseas rights have yet to be decided, a spokesman for the Premier League said. These currently earn the clubs about pounds 14m a year.

The new deal will generate an average of pounds 8m per club - quadruple the current TV income. Money has already transformed the game in Britain, fuelled by the pounds 60m a year generated by TV rights in the past four years.

"Money gained through these deals enables clubs to entertain to new heights," Mr Parry said. "The new deal looks forward to a new age, when the public can gain increased access to emerging technologies."

The day's negotiations took place at the luxurious Coombe Abbey, near Coventry.