Pay up and watch the game

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The Independent Online
England soccer fans wanting to watch their team playing against Brazil, France and Italy on television this summer could find themselves having to pay - much to the fury of sponsors and the Football Association.

Jonathon Pearson of Green Flag, the car recovery company which sponsors the England team, said there was nothing the firm or the FA could do to prevent the French football association, which is hosting a tournament in June for the four nations, and BSkyB, holder of the TV rights, from charging to watch the games.

Under a proposal from the French organisers, viewers would be charged between pounds 5 and pounds 10 to watch England play. This would be the first time, pay-per-view has been used for football matches. Until now, it has only applied to boxing, with 600,000 people paying to watch last year's bout between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson.

Charging people to watch soccer would represent a dramatic widening of pay-per-view. Even in America, where the practice originated, it usually only applies to boxing .

Speaking from Bisham Abbey, where the England team has gathered for their crucial World Cup qualifying match against Georgia next week, Mr Pearson said that neither Green Flag nor the FA could influence the decsion of the organisers of the French tournament to make it a pay-per-view event.

Sponsors and the FA are concerned that the French deal will mark the beginning of a slippery slope and that soon all major Premier League and England away games, where the host nation has TV rights, could be pay-per-view. Already, there is concern among sponsors that audiences on Sky are not as high as they would be on BBC or ITV and that these would be further eroded if people have to pay extra.

Leeds, Manchester United and Newcastle are understood to be pressing for pay-per-view for their games. They would share receipts with Sky, which is keen to raise revenues to develop the new digital service.

The Premier League will report to the clubs this summer on the feasibility of charging viewers to watch major matches.

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