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TV football 'worth pounds 1bn a year'

Confidential Premier League report identifies a pay-per-view goldmine
PREMIER League football clubs could command an astonishing pounds 1bn per season in broadcasting fees if matches were screened on a controversial "pay-per-view" basis, according to a confidential report commissioned by the clubs.

The figure, based on market research findings, is far higher than previous estimates and dwarfs the current deal of pounds 305m over five years signed between satellite broadcaster BSkyB and the Premier League, which expires next summer.

It also raises serious doubts about whether BSkyB, or any other television company, would or could afford to enter the bidding on its own. BSkyB has pre-emption rights that allow it to trump the highest bid from a rival when its deal with the Premier League comes up for renewal.

The Premier League, its advisers and the chairmen of England's 20 biggest football clubs are said to be studying the survey's findings before the TV negotiations begin in earnest.

Harris, the market research group, recently carried out a poll of 4,000 fans about their attitude towards pay-per-view football. It found little difference in the number of would-be viewers prepared to pay either pounds 6.95 or pounds 9.95 to watch a live Premier League game.

The survey, which assumed the existence of hundreds of digital television channels, made no distinction between cable, satellite or terrestrial delivery systems such as the BBC and ITV.

However, its findings are at odds with another recent poll, which revealed widespread public hostility to pay-per-view television. That found that two-thirds of cable and satellite households were unlikely to pay extra to watch selected sports events.

The first test of the public's attitude to pay-per-view will come next Saturday when armchair boxing fans shell out at least pounds 9.95 to see Sky TV's coverage of the world title fight between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson in Las Vegas.

BSkyB plans to introduce pay-per-view programming on a regular basis by the end of this year and is also examining ways of expanding into digital services.

Last week, BSkyB paid pounds 175m for a 25 per cent stake in Premiere, the German television channel that holds the rights to Bundesliga football - Germany's version of the Premier League. Bundesliga recently sold its rights for three years for pounds 270m.

Talks about a new television deal for English football have been overshadowed by the Office of Fair Trading's recent decision to refer the exclusive sports agreements involving BSkyB and football's Premier League to the Restrictive Practices Court. It claimed that the Premier League had operated as a cartel when negotiating its deal, preventing clubs from selling rights without its permission.

A Premier League spokesman refused to comment on the pay-per-view survey. "We do not discuss our commercial negotiations about television rights. No options are ruled in or ruled out. We have to keep an eye on a dynamic and changing market."

Into the box, page 4