Football clubs `could bypass Sky'

Two leading television executives yesterday predicted the eclipse of broadcasters such as BSkyB and sports bodies such as the Premier League by top football clubs. They warned that the top clubs, which owned valuable rights to screen live games, could cut exclusive pay-per-view television deals.

Greg Dyke, chief executive of Pearson Television, claimed next year's planned introduction of digital television and the soaring value of sports rights would bring "untold riches" to clubs such as Manchester United at the expense of programme distributors.

Speaking at a seminar in London on the business of sport organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Mr Dyke said: "It is the clubs who own the rights who will gain, not the broadcasters. This is not television as we know it. The new television will be an extension of the gate, the club selling to the fans."

Mr Dyke attacked the hitherto dominant role played by BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster which recently agreed a pounds 670m deal with the Premier League to retain exclusive rights to televise top football matches into the next century.

"BSkyB has made an enormous amount of money by being a monopoly supplier of somebody else's market. But it is an interim service using interim technology."

Mr Dyke's comments were backed up by Robin Welch, a leading figure at Dutch pay-TV group NetHold, who last week became a non-executive director of Caspian, the media group which owns Premier League club Leeds United.

"Sports distributors will have less of an influence in the digital era," Mr Welch said.

The outspoken comments of two senior industry figures come as leading football clubs continue to prepare for the early introduction of pay-per- view, which is not scheduled under the BSkyB/Premier League contract until 1999.

This week it emerged that Rick Parry was quitting as Premier League chief executive to take up a similar post at Liverpool in a move widely seen as increasing the Anfield's club bargaining power in future pay-per-view negotiations.

BSkyB is also keen to offer pay-per-view Premier League football to coincide with the launch of up to 200 digital channels next year, about 60 of which will be pay-per-view sport or films. But clubs could be free to sign their own pay-per-view deals if the Restrictive Practices Court decides BSkyB's exclusive television contract with the Premier League is illegal.

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