Major sports events 'should be off-limits to satellite deals'

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The Independent Online
ALL TELEVISION viewers should be guaranteed coverage of important international sports events - which should be off-limits to exclusive satellite and cable deals, ITV executives told MPs yesterday.

Leslie Hill, chairman of the ITV Association, claimed BSkyB had enough money to outbid the terrestial stations for any sport, even though this confined viewing to 2 million Sky Sports subscribers instead of a potential 28 million terrestial customers.

He called for the widening of the 'heritage' list of events considered such an important part of British life they must be shown on terrestial channels.

The University Boat Race, Grand National, Wimbledon and a few others, should be joined by England's cricket tests, World Cup Cricket, major golf championships, England football internationals, world athletics and international rugby, he said.

But BSkyB told MPs on the National Heritage Select Committee that competitive bidding such as its pounds 300m five-year deal with the Premier League had been overwhelmingly good for sport. David Elstein, its head of programming, said it should be left to sport's ruling bodies to decide whether they wanted universal audience access to their top events.

''For BBC and ITV to say that the Sky deal has been damaging to football flies in the face of reality,' he said. Clubs now received much more for television rights, more live matches were televised and more people attended football matches.

Will Wyatt, BBC Network managing director, said the corporation was managing to hold a 'relatively competitive' position, paying pounds 90m a year for 1,600 hours of sport, but as satellite and cable stations reached wider audiences that was likely to be eroded.