Premier League welcomes new TV deal as Sky loses monopoly

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The Independent Online

Live premiership matches will be shown to television viewers for free next season after a compromise deal agreed yesterday between BSkyB, the Premier League and the European Commission. Under the provisional agreement, up to eight matches a season will be shown by terrestrial broadcasters.

The deal means that Sky's monopoly on live Premiership coverage has been broken and that terrestrial broadcasters - presumably the BBC or ITV - will be able to show live games for the first time since the league was formed in 1992.

The EC had launched an investigation into Sky's deal because it was concerned about the satellite broadcaster's dominant position, reinforced by the agreement signed in August that gave Sky exclusive rights to show all Premiership games for the next three seasons at a price of £1.024bn. The deal runs from August 2004 to May 2007.

ITV and the BBC are now expected to negotiate for the rights to sub-license from Sky up to eight games per season. Although they were described yesterday as "high-quality games", it is understood that they will be from the least desirable "Copper" package of 31 fixtures that are earmarked for a Saturday tea-time kick-off. Sky will still get to cherry-pick the most attractive fixtures for the so-called "Gold", "Silver" and "Bronze" packages, which will be played on Sundays, Monday evenings and Saturday lunch-times respectively.

While this will mean that the terrestrial broadcasters are highly unlikely to get their hands on matches between the biggest clubs, there should be no reason why they cannot show games pitting the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal against some of the Premier League's lesser lights.

The compromise is seen by the Premier League as crucial in preserving the stability of clubs, which have based their budgets on the lucrative television income. Although Sky is likely to attempt to renegotiate its deal, on the basis that it is no longer an exclusive arrangement, there is not expected to be a huge cut in the amount of money that goes into the game from television.

In a statement, the League said: "This announcement leaves in place the new deals already negotiated for the next three years and recognises the changes the FA Premier League have made to their broadcasting arrangements over the course of nine months of negotiations."