Fury over 'elitist' plan to charge for TV football

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THE Premier League has been warned it will disenfranchise fans and make supporting football clubs a privilege if it agrees plans to introduce pay-per-view games on Sky Television next season.

The Football Supporters Association yesterday said it was "appalled" by proposals being discussed today at the summer meeting of Premier League club chairmen.

At the meeting a working party will report on discussions with Sky about the various options for introducing pay-per-view (PPV) matches which could lead to an extra 144 games a season being broadcast to those who can afford it.

A PPV trial scheme will be part of the development of Sky's digital satellite television service, so consumers will have to pay around pounds 200 for a set- top decoder box. A subscription to Sky's basic channels package, including its three sports channels, costs around pounds 17.99 a month and Sky is expected to charge up to pounds 10 for each PPV match.

Fans are expected to voice their anger at the PPV plans this weekend when the Football Supporters' Association holds its annual conference. The association's vice-chairman, Shiela Spierf, has condemned the plan: "It is yet another example of the Premier League clubs disenfranchising fans.

"To be a supporter of a Premier League club is now a privilege of those of middle and high income. The Premier League is saying to fans: 'If you are low-income, we don't want you'."

He added: "We are appalled at the total lack of consultation with any fans' organisations on this matter."

Today's presentation is expected to suggest that four Premier League games could be moved from Saturday afternoons to a Sunday 1.30 pm kick- off next season. Fans could then choose to order between three or four of these on a PPV basis.

Described as an "experiment", the scheme is expected to lead to all eight Saturday games moving to Sunday for the season of 1999-2000.

Financial projections suggest that PPV will generate gross revenues of pounds 31.8m, with the clubs set to receive around pounds 16m on top of the pounds 160m they are already paid by Sky.

Sky has exclusive rights to broadcast PPV Premier League until 2001, but it must reach an agreement to begin the scheme next season so that it can convince consumers to pay out for the 200-plus channels on the new digital satellite service.

A limited PPV movies service, Sky Box Office, currently airs on the existing satellite service with occasional "special event" PPV boxing nights. Next week, a Robbie Williams concert will be broadcast live on Sky Box Office at a cost of pounds 9.95 to viewers.

The chairman of Manchester United, Martin Edwards, backs the PPV plan. He said yesterday that he had conducted a telephone straw poll of the 20 Premier League chairmen and found most to be broadly in favour of introducing PPV next season.