Football: Leeds take lead role on pay TV

Steve Tongue switches the focus in television debate as chairmen test water
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The Independent Online
AT LEAST one Premiership team could still be seen on pay-per-view television next season, despite Friday's decision not to accept BSkyB's initial proposals for coverage of the Premier League. Leeds United have been exploring the possibility of putting their Uefa Cup matches on pay- per-view, if they do not secure a sufficiently lucrative deal with terrestrial television.

It is even being suggested that Manchester United, equally enthusiastic about the long-term potential of paying for individual matches, could go down the same route if they were knocked out of the preliminary round of the European Cup (covered by ITV) and had to play in the Uefa Cup instead. Sky Sports would welcome the opportunity to test the water and other clubs would watch with great interest to see the response from supporters.

Leeds would propose charging pounds 8-pounds 10 per game, which is in line with the fee being suggested for Premiership games, though that could rise in later rounds. They would be prepared to show home matches as long as the game was sold-out.

Chris Akers of Leeds Sporting, the holding company of Leeds United, said recently: "It has to be an option we'd consider, provided the minimum guarantees matched the type of money that a terrestrial broadcaster would be prepared to pay for the games. If Sky are unable to trial pay-per-view by way of Premier League games, then the only other option open to them is the Uefa Cup and Cup-Winners' Cup.

"I know it's something Manchester United considered three years ago, when they were in the Uefa Cup. There are even some commentators speculating that should they be knocked out in the qualifying stages of the Champions League, they could make more money through a successful run in the Uefa Cup if they adopt pay-per-view."

It seems clear that objections voiced at Friday's meeting of the 20 Premiership clubs concerned the details rather than the principles involved. Some were unhappy about so many games being moved to Sunday, while a report from the working party on television have warned that there would be adverse reaction from fans and the press.

Heavyweights such as Tottenham's Alan Sugar and Liverpool's Rick Parry were not present and according to one chairman, pay-per-view was not put to a vote. Sky's head of sport Vic Wakeling claims he was expecting that, and that there was never any question of an agreement being reached on Friday. "The chairmen were taking their first look at four or five weeks of meetings," he said. "Obviously they now want clarification and further details."

Wakeling expects talks to resume either this week or next. His worry in the longer-term must be that the Premier League, or the clubs, will gain enough confidence to operate their own channels once the present agreement with BSkyB runs out in 2001. A deal to cover a big club's European games in the meantime would suit Sky.

A proposal that the FA chairman and vice-chairman should be paid has been voted out by the annual meeting of the English game's governing body. Six months ago the FA's executive committee recommended that the chairman, currently Keith Wiseman, should receive around pounds 75,000 a year and the vice-chairman pounds 25,000 but the move failed by 8 per cent to get the necessary 75 per cent support.

"It's very disappointing to me because we had worked very hard on the proposal and apparently convinced the waverers that this was the right way forward," Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, said.

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