Premiership set for pounds 10-a-match BSkyB deal

Football moneyspinner: Murdoch team in pay-per-view talks with clubs as league chief's pounds 100,000 bonus is revealed
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The Independent Online
BSkyB executives are holding informal talks with several top football clubs about introducing pay-per-view broadcasts of live Premiership games as early as next year.

The talks, which are still at an early stage, could see Saturday matches transmitted on a pay-as-you-go basis at pounds 10 a time, generating millions for Sky and the Premiership. Currently, only Sunday and Monday matches are televised live on the Sky Sports channel.

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that Premiership chief executive Rick Parry, who negotiated the recently agreed four-year, pounds 670m exclusive pay-TV deal, was paid a bonus of more than pounds 100,000 upon its signing. The broadcast contract, however, has not yet been ratified by all the clubs.

Under the contract, which only covers subscription television rights and runs from the start of next season, the Premiership agreed to discuss the introduction of pay-per-view after two years. But sources at the league said last night there was nothing to stop earlier moves to the new format.

"Pay-per-view is always an option," said a spokesman for the league. "It is an ongoing part of the present and new contracts, but no date has been set for its introduction and it can't be done without the blessing of the Premiership." He said no deal was being sought at the moment.

According to football and broadcasting sources, the early move to pay- per-view is being driven in part by fears that the Restrictive Practices Court could intervene, insisting that the exclusive deal be torn up, and replaced with contracts between Sky and individual clubs.

Sky is keen to ensure it retains rights to British football, which have been the prime engine of its spectacular growth in the UK market. According to the most recent figures, there are 5.65 million Sky subscribers, of whom two-thirds take the premium sport channels.

Premiership chairmen are also seeking to develop the pay-per-view market as soon as possible to cash in on revenues that could exceed pounds 2.5bn a year. It is understood that top clubs, including Newcastle and Manchester United, are leading efforts to build a pay-per-view market as soon as possible.

Man United alone could earn as much as pounds 90m a season, even after it splits the revenues with Sky. "The sooner it happens, the better off everybody is going to be," a source close to the club said yesterday.

Early results from France, where pay-per-view football was introduced this season, suggest take-up rates can reach as high as 20 per cent of subscribers equipped to receive the service.

The success of Sky's early experiments with pay-per-view boxing, including last weekend's contest between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, was also being seen by both Sky and the Premiership as proof that British viewers are willing to pay extra for premium sporting events. More than 420,000 paid up to pounds 14.95 to watch the fight.

On the existing analogue system, where capacity remains limited, full- scale pay-per-view movies and sport would be difficult to accommodate. However, selected football matches, for instance crucial league games, could be shown on a trial basis late this season.

Next year, Sky intends to launch its digital satellite service, offering up to 200 channels, of which perhaps 60 will be reserved for pay-per-view services.

If the court rules against the current contract, other broadcasters could return to the fray, seeking their own deals with the Premiership. The court is expected to decide by summer.

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