Premier League blocks Man Utd TV game plan

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The Independent Online
Manchester United, the UK's best-supported and most successful football club, has been forced to delay plans to screen its home matches at neighbouring Bury after failing to secure permission from the Premier League. The decision means United's opening home league game against Southampton tonight will not be screened at Bury's Gigg Lane ground.

United had hoped to screen its first five home matches at the nearby First Division club's ground in order to offer around 7,000 fans alternative access to watch games which typically attract sell-out 55,000 crowds at Old Trafford. But Premier League officials turned down the request due to concerns about the potential impact on attendances at other local clubs such as Blackburn Rovers, Burnley and Oldham Athletic.

The Premier League has not ruled out the plan and it is understood that it may be resurrected by the end of the month. Negotiations between the Premier League and the Nationwide Football League are taking place about the issue. United issued a statement saying the plans had been postponed for "licensing reasons" but "restoration of the proposal is being kept closely under review". The Premier League confirmed the matter was still under consideration.

It is understood that United had problems securing permission from the local authority to screen home games at Bury due to the additional policing that would be required.

United said it was disappointed with the decision and Bury would be the biggest loser as the additional funds generated by the games would have been useful for the club which has just been promoted to the First Division.

Ticket prices had been set to start at pounds 5. Manchester United shares shrugged off the disappointment, closing 2p higher at 653.5p.

Separately Celtic, the AIM-listed Scottish football club, announced a pre-tax profit, excluding transfer fees, of pounds 5.2m in the year to June. The club said it would reinvest the profits principally in new signings in a bid to stop Rangers winning a record 10th Scottish League title in a row. The figures compared with a loss of pounds 1m in the previous year. Turnover also improved from pounds 16m to pounds 22m.

Analysts said they remained positive on Celtic's potential. Nick Batram, of Greig Middleton, said "a number of its revenue streams such as merchandise are well below where they should be for a club of Celtic's size". He also said the club should be able to fill its Park Head stadium when the capacity is increased to 60,000.

Celtic chairman Fergus McCann hit out at the quality and structure of the Scottish domestic game and its limited market. The Scottish Premier League clubs recently appointed Deloitte & Touche to look at the commerciality of the top Scottish clubs. International Management Group has been appointed to look at the value of the television deals to the clubs. The current deal runs out at the end of this season.

Celtic is not paying a dividend. Mr Batram said: "There are so many opportunities at the moment to reinvest the cash that they are generating into the business that they see the returns of investing that cash rather than paying dividends as going to serve shareholders better."