ITV bids £10m to show football before BBC

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The Independent Online

ITV is hoping to score a last-gasp equaliser in its tussle with the BBC for Saturday night football rights.

This month, the BBC paid £105m of licence payers' money to secure the return of Match of the Day to its traditional Saturday night slot for coverage of next season's matches.

But ITV is lining up a bid for a rival package that would allow it to show full, 90-minute coverage of one of the best Premiership matches of the day, starting at 8.30pm, two hours before the BBC programme goes on air.

The alternative programme, which would probably be shown on the digital channel ITV2, could be available for £25m, a quarter of what the BBC paid for Match of the Day. The deal would also let ITV show 45-minute highlights of another game at 10pm - clashing the start of Match of the Day - and highlights of up to four other Saturday games after midnight.

ITV2 is available free of charge on Freeview and the "near-live" package will be the first chance of the weekend to watch Premiership football in homes that do not have access to BSkyB.

But the BBC said last night that it was confident that its long-standing show, hosted by Gary Lineker, would not be undermined by any deal between the Premier League and ITV. A BBC spokesman said: "We were aware of the near-live package when we bid for highlights, but we don't believe that this will impact on Match of the Day."

The near-live package will apply only to Premiership games not already selected by BSkyB for live coverage. The satellite broadcaster has bought the rights to two games every Saturday, two more to be played on Sundays and possibly a further match on Monday night.

BSkyB paid a total of £1.024bn for its right to show 138 live games during the season. The Premier League is looking to generate further revenue by selling extra packages for the rights to cover games on radio, over the internet and on overseas television channels.

If ITV bids for the near-live rights it will not be able to show highlights of the games broadcast by BSkyB until after midnight, unlike Match of the Day, which is able to screen clips from all of the day's games.

ITV has so far offered only £10m for the near-live rights, with Telewest, the cable company, offering slightly less. But the Premier League is hoping for between £25m and £40m and has called for new bids by 5 September.

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