Murdoch's Man Utd bid blocked

THE GOVERNMENT dealt a huge blow to Rupert Murdoch's hold on sports rights yesterday when it blocked the takeover of Manchester United by British Sky Broadcasting.

To the surprise of sports fans, politicians and shareholders alike, Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, halted the pounds 623m takeover bid after the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) ruled it anti-competitive, saying it would have an adverse effect on the wider football industry.

"Under almost all scenarios considered by the MMC, the merger would increase the market power which BSkyB already has as a provider of sports premium channels," Mr Byers said.

The ruling undermines BSkyB's carefully thought-out strategy at a time when the company is investing heavily in its new digital satellite service.

The supporters' groups who have opposed the deal since it was announced last September were jubilant. "The most remarkable thing is that a politician has at last stood up to Rupert Murdoch," said Michael Crick, a broadcaster, and founder of the Shareholders United Against Murdoch group.

BSkyB felt it had addressed the main objection to the takeover - that Manchester United would pass information about bids for television rights from rival broadcasters to its new parent - by agreeing that the club would withdraw from the talks.

"We said at the outset that Manchester United had one vote in 20," said Vic Wakeling, managing director of Sky Sports. "We have then said, if people are concerned about this, we will agree to stand down during any TV contract talks, so we can't see why there would be a competition issue."

BSkyB and United were disappointed but said the decision was not fatal. Mark Booth, BSkyB's chief executive, said: "This is a bad ruling for British football clubs who will have to compete in Europe against clubs who are backed by successful media companies."

Sources in the Murdoch camp said last night its reaction was one of "disbelief rather than anger". Their surprise was echoed by legal experts who had concluded there were few concrete reasons for blocking the deal.

Observers were also surprised at the tone of the 254-page report, which was compiled after an investigation lasting four and a half months. The report is highly suspicious of BSkyB and United, concluding that promises offered by the two companies to help the deal go through were unlikely to be kept.

The report appears to rule out the possibility of any broadcaster being allowed to own a football club. Analysts now believe the proposed takeover of Newcastle United by the cable group NTL, which Mr Byers referred to the newly formed Competition Commission yesterday, will also be blocked. In the City, shares in Manchester United and other listed football clubs such as Aston Villa and Newcastle fell as investors absorbed the report's implications.

Mr Blair's allies admitted that Mr Murdoch would be angry. The Prime Minister would seek to reassure him in an attempt to prevent the decision inflicting long- term damage on their close relationship.

Labour MPs hostile to Mr Murdoch were jubilant. "It is a good day," said Chris Mullin, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. "It is clear evidence that the Government is not necessarily intimidated by Mr Murdoch, despite the size of his empire."

Both The Times and The Sun condemned the Government's decision, saying that football would be the loser.

The Times devoted two pages to the ruling and gave the whole of page three to two of the paper's senior writers, Raymond Snoddy and Rob Hughes, who stressed the important contribution that BSkyB had made to the game.

Full report, pages 6-7

Business Outlook, page 19

Sport, page 32

Leading article,

Review, page 3

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering