Football clubs turn to telly for a top-up

Rising costs have persuaded English teams to squeeze more money out of TV. Heather Tomlinson shows how they're doing it
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Rising player costs mean football clubs need as many pennies as they can get. So as the Premiership starts this weekend, clubs are also embarking on a new way of bringing in revenue.

In a dramatic change to the contracts for football's TV rights, from tomorrow the clubs will claim back ownership of their rights so they can show their matches on their own TV channels.

Yesterday's duel between Arsenal and Middlesbrough will be shown tomorrow night, on a new subscriber channel that is a partnership between NTL and Middlesbrough. Today's match between Chelsea and Newcastle United will also be shown on Monday night, on Chelsea's new channel, which was launched with a fanfare last week and features Big Brother's Bubble as a presenter.

Fans of Manchester United will also be able to watch matches soon on the club's MUTV channel. That is because, although the Premiership negotiates TV rights for live matches and highlights on the day, for the first time the rights will revert to the clubs on the next day, or two days later on weekend matches.

ITV still has the rights to Saturday night highlights, and Sky has the rights to more than 100 live matches, but 40 of these are pay-per-view.

The move comes at an important time for the clubs. English football income broke the £1bn barrier between 1999 and 2000, shows research by Deloitte & Touche. But while revenues are soaring, costs are also close behind. This year, Premiership club incomes are expected to soar, punted up by the broadcasting deals.

Several media companies are getting in on the action. Granada is managing Liverpool and Arsenal's website and is in talks with the latter to develop a TV station. It also owns one third of MUTV along with Sky.

NTL has a partnership with Middlesbrough, has a small stake in the football club, and also owns the free-to-air and the new subscriber channel. The company has equity stakes in Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Leicester City and Celtic, and runs the websites of all of these clubs. If that was not enough, it also broadcasts the MUTV channel.

But Sky has stakes in Manchester United, Leeds United, Sunderland and Chelsea, and broadcasts the Chelsea and MUTV channels.

Chelsea has also branched out into digital radio with a joint venture with Radio First, the AIM-traded media company, and the Big Blue station will launch this weekend.

Middlesbrough has a partnership with NTL, which holds a 5 per cent stake in the club, and has had a free-to-air channel for three years.

But this week it is launching a subscriber service that will show the full Premiership games. Most large football clubs also have an online strategy.

Fulham has entered the media fray after launching a jazzed-up website and signing a deal with wireless marketing company AirMedia to add mobile services to its new website. These will include ring-tones of terrace songs. Ring-tones are proving a major source of income.

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