Football: BSkyB cuts its United stake

THE PREMIER LEAGUE yesterday turned down Manchester United's request that BSkyB be allowed to retain an 11.1 per cent shareholding in the club. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled television group immediately cut its stake by 1.13 per cent to 9.99, selling 2.9 million shares following the ruling.

The Premier League's chief executive Richard Scudamore said: "The Board of the FA Premier League... considered BSkyB's shareholding in Manchester United in light of their 9.9 per cent stake in Leeds United and the provisions contained in the Premier League's rules on interests held in more than one club. We are of the view that BSkyB should not hold an 11.1 per cent stake in Manchester United. [Both parties] have responded positively and we understand steps have been taken to bring the position into line with Premier League policy."

As well as their shareholdings in United and Leeds, the company are buying a 9.9 per cent stake in Manchester City.

The decision by the Premier League followed a call from a group of United shareholders to stop BSkyB buying stakes in different clubs at the Treble winners' AGM last Thursday.

A spokesman for Shareholders United, Oliver Houston, last night urged further co-operation between football authorities and the Government over BSkyB's shareholding in clubs.

Houston said: "The 9.9 per cent figure is a red herring. FA and Premier League rules state that this threshold is for investment purposes only.

"Given BSkyB's strategic holding in Leeds and Manchester City, no one can seriously suggest that BSkyB's stake in Manchester United is anything other than an attempt to gain a strategic footing in the negotiation of TV rights.

"We urge the Football Association to work with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Office of Fair Trading to ensure a wholesale approach to this problem."