Newcastle may link with BSkyB in TV channel deal

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Newcastle United is considering signing a deal with Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB and Granada, the television and leisure group, to set up its own TV channel. BSkyB and Granada are also likely to sign up Manchester United and have also offered to set up a channel for Liverpool. And, in another deal that shows the increasing commercialisation of football, Andrew Yates reports that ENIC, the investment trust backed by Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis is close to buying a majority stake in the Greek club AEK... Members of the Toon Army, as Newcastle United's devoted following is affectionately known, could soon be able to watch their favourite team on the club's own television channel. Newcastle are considering plans to join forces with BSkyB and Granada to set up the channel and have a firm offer on the table according to sources close to BSkyB. The club is thought to be likely to accept the offer. Even if it does not sign the deal, it will press ahead with plans to create a television channel with another broadcaster.

The new channel will be able to show live friendly matches and European games, other than those in the European Champions' League. Programmes also involve features and interviews with the players and club news. Fans will pay a monthly subscription to watch the programmes.

Newcastle is believed to want to start the channel as soon as possible. However, it may wait until the advent of digital television next year, which will lead to the introduction of hundreds of new channels. Eventually, the channel could also show other sports from Newcastle, including rugby and ice hockey. Sir John Hall, the former chairman of the club and the man credited with Newcastle United's on-field revival, has built up a formidable array of sporting interests in the city.

But Newcastle will not be able to show live Premier League games, which can only be exclusively shown on Sky under the four-year deal the clubs recently signed with the satellite giant.

Manchester United is believed to be ready to announce its own tie-up with BSkyB and Granada next week, when it unveils its annual results.

The group yesterday appointed Greg Dyke, the flamboyant head of Pearson's television operation, as a non-executive director to help oversee the development of its television business.

Greg Dyke, a life-long Manchester United fan, is seen as a good signing for the club. The 50-year-old has had a distinguished television career. Credited with saving TV-AM by introducing Roland Rat, he went on to head up LWT and the new breakfast programme GMTV.

Recently he presented Fair Game, a Channel 4 investigative series about sport. He also lead the team that won the licence for Channel 5, the UK's last terrestrial channel.

Mr Dyke said yesterday: "It is especially exciting being involved with the club that I have supported since I was a young boy. In the street where I live, I realise that is will be an unpopular decision amongst the mass of Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs supporters."

However, a Pearson spokesman denied Mr Dyke's move meant the group was interested in getting involved in pay TV football channels.

ENIC was last night close to signing a deal which will give it an option to buy up to 100 per cent of AEK Athens for pounds 6m according to industry sources. AEK is one of the most successful clubs in Greece and is currently holder of the Greek cup.

Talks with AEK are still ongoing but if ENIC can secure the deal it will be the trust's first acquisition since raising pounds 51m earlier this week and signalling its intentions to become a big player in the European leisure and media industry.