Man Utd sits on pay television gold mine

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The Independent Online
Profits at Manchester United could double with the introduction of televised pay-per-view football even if millions of armchair fans pay as little as pounds 5 a time, a new report suggests.

Underlining the potential cash bonanza awaiting top clubs from the advent of pay-per-view television, Swiss investment bank UBS believes United could make an extra pounds 30m a season from viewers watching Premier League games on a match-by-match basis.

UBS assumes 750,000 homes would take pay-per-view for a United game with revenues split equally between the clubs and BSkyB, the pay-television broadcaster that holds the rights to broadcast 60 live Premier League games each year.

Julian Easthope, the analyst who wrote the report, admits the numbers are conservative. "With so many unknown factors, there is an enormous range of potential benefits," he said.

A recent survey carried out by the Harris research group and seen by all 20 Premier League chairmen found that matches shown live at different times at pounds 10 a go could generate up to pounds 2.5bn a year for the Premier League, and over pounds 380m for United.

The introduction of pay-per-view is allowed by 1999 under the terms of a four-year, pounds 670m deal signed between BSkyB and the Premier League.

But it could be launched as early as next year as the main driver behind BSkyB's planned launch of up to 200 digital satellite channels, 60 of which are likely to show pay-per-view sport or films.

Interest in pay-per-view has been stimulated by the recent heavyweight title fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield when 430,000 households paid up to pounds 14.99 to watch the late-night bout on BSkyB, which has 3.8 million existing subscribers to its sports channels.

The UBS report, which estimates Man United has 2.3 million fans in 900,000 UK homes, also highlights the "major hurdle" in splitting PPV revenues between BSkyB and the smaller Premier League clubs.

Top teams such as Man United and Newcastle are lobbying for a larger slice of television income, but smaller clubs fear this would only widen the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots"' in the Premiership.

UBS says one alternative might be an "electronic season ticket" like the one recently introduced in Spain.

This would allow viewers to watch all Premiership games at, say, pounds 9.99 a month in addition to BSkyB's existing service. Such a deal could be worth at least pounds 10m to Man United by 1999, UBS argues.

Shares in Manchester United have risen strongly this year, largely on the prospect of sharply higher television income from pay-per-view deals and persistent takeover rumours.

Yesterday they edged another 4.5p higher to 566p, despite United's 1- 0 home defeat by Juventus in the UEFA Champions League.

On Wednesday media and leisure group Granada, said to be lining up a bid for United, insisted that buying the club made no sense.

Mr Easthope said that while only one factual bid for Man United had been made - from video group VCI - it was not unusual for media groups to own a sports company.

He cited the example of Canal Plus, the French pay-television broadcaster and owner Paris St Germain, and Dutch electronics giant Philips, which runs PSV Eindhoven.

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