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Football's pounds 20m TV goal

Deal close as Premier League aims to quadruple revenues from overseas rights
The Premier League, England's professional footballing elite, is close to signing a new record-breaking deal for the rights to foreign television coverage of its matches.

Rick Parry, the Premier League's chief executive, is understood to be in negotiations to quadruple football clubs' income from overseas TV rights to more than pounds 20m, and he is anxious to complete the deal before he leaves in April to take up the chief executive's job at Liverpool Football Club.

The current contract, which is separate from the deal with BSkyB to show live games in the UK, has a year to run. It earns the Premier League around pounds 8m a year, of which pounds 5.5m goes directly to the clubs. The remainder is distributed to regional sporting associations.

Under the contract, marketing rights to foreign TV companies are held by CSI, a Rome-based marketing and sponsorship agency.

Much Premier League football can be viewed live in many countries overseas, whether from BSkyB or BBC broadcasts - unlike in the UK, where only selected games are shown live to keep up ground attendances.

A new contract is expected to be signed before the end of the current season, and it will run until 2002.

Football insiders predict that it will be worth close to pounds 25m to the Premier League, with around pounds 20m going to the clubs after deductions. Each club that remains in the top flight for the 1998-99 season will receive at least pounds 1m a year for foreign rights to its games, compared with the pounds 270,000 a year each currently receives.

It is also believed that the new deal will not necessarily be with CSI. Instead, the Premier League will ask a number of sports marketing agencies to tender for the rights.

A spokesman for the Premier League refused to confirm that negotiations were taking place, but he did say: "The interest in Premier League games around the world is phenomenal at the moment. Since we signed the last deal in 1994, the League has gone from being in good shape to being in very good shape. We are now a worldwide product."

The new deal will dwarf Carling's four-year sponsorship arrangement, worth pounds 9m a year to the Premier League from next season. It will also further confirm the money-spinning potential of professional football, and its transformation in the 1990s. Nine years ago, in the aftermath of the Heysel and Bradford disasters, the Football League could only get ITV to pay pounds 9m a year for live game rights. From next season, BSkyB will pay pounds 167.5m a year for similar rights to Premier League games.