Man Utd positive over TV rights as BSkyB looks set to lose monopoly

The television rights to live coverage of premiership matches from 2001 will be split between several operators, with BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster, losing its monopoly, Manchester United said yesterday.

Reporting half-year results, the world's most valuable club said the talks over coverage, due to begin next month, were unlikely to lead to a deal with a single operator because of regulatory concerns. It also said that the new deal, for the 2001 season onwards, was unlikely to be as long as the current four-year contract.

Roy Owens, at Charterhouse Securities, said that the involvement of several media companies in the new deal could possibly push the value of the contract beyond £1.5bn.

Peter Kenyon, Manchester United's deputy chief executive, also said the club was "looking at our options" for its website.

It is thought the club will put forward an internet strategy later this year, which could include spinning off its online arm or bringing in a partner. The internet potential has been the key driver for the club's shares, which have shot up this year from less than 180p to yesterday's 402.75p.

Manchester United reported a 30 per cent rise in operating costs to £33.8m for the six months to 31 January, with a £3m increase in player wages. Turnover was up 16 per cent to £64m, with an operating profit of £18.6m, up from £17.3m.

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