Clubs 'may take charge of football broadcasts'

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The Independent Online

The decision of the cable operator NTL to withdraw from a £328m three-year pay-per-view football broadcasting deal could lead to the Premier League stepping in to produce coverage of the matches, Jon Fickling, chief executive of Sunderland football club, said yesterday.

The decision of the cable operator NTL to withdraw from a £328m three-year pay-per-view football broadcasting deal could lead to the Premier League stepping in to produce coverage of the matches, Jon Fickling, chief executive of Sunderland football club, said yesterday.

Mr Fickling said: "We will have to go back into the market. There's a possibility that the Premier League might do pay-per-view."

It was unclear yesterday whether pay-per-view broadcasts would begin as originally scheduled in August 2001. NTL had planned to broadcast 40 games per season for around £4 per match or £100 for an annual season ticket.

Speculation is growing that BSkyB could be lined up to rescue the pay-per-view deal, although it is unlikely that the Premier League would receive a bid anywhere near the £109m per year originally offered by NTL. When the cable company agreed the £2.3m per game pay-per-view deal in May, analysts believed the terms of the offer were uneconomic.

Though relations between BSkyB and the Premier League remain strong, club chairmen realise that selling pay-per-view to the satellite giant could provoke regulators, who are concerned to promote competition in the football broadcasting rights market.

Commenting on last spring's decision to split subscription and pay-per-view rights, Mr Fickling noted: "The whole package was designed to stand up to scrutiny from whatever (regulatory) quarter."

His comments came as Sunderland reported a narrowing in 14 months to July pretax profit to £418,000 from £1.5m a year earlier. The lower profit outurn reflected a 116 per cent rise in player salaries to £14.6m and a £6.5m charge for provisions relating to amortisation and diminution of transfer fees.

The club's rebound into the top flight after a one-year absense helped turnover jump 51 per cent to £36m. A key to that was a near-tripling in TV and media rights revenue to £10.6m as well as healthy advances in sponsorship, catering and merchandising sales.

A bigger concern for investors, except perhaps shareholders in Manchester United and Arsenal, is the lacklustre market performance of football team shares. This sees the market value of Chelsea, Newcastle and Spurs, not to mention smaller clubs such as Leicester City, trail the value of their fixed assets - of which the biggest component is each team's stadium.

Some advisers to Premier League clubs believe the best way to boost clubs' market valuations is for the league eventually to take full control of the media rights to match broadcasts. Any move in that direction could not occur until the 2005-2006 football season, as BSkyB in May retained Premier League football rights in a £1.1bn three-year pact that begins next August.

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