Football: Oxford to make history

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The Independent Online
OXFORD UNITED may yet play their part in changing the face of English football. Should the First Division strugglers' match against Sunderland tomorrow - the first to be screened nationally on a pay-per- view basis - be a success, it could pave the way for an expansion of football on subscription channels, PPV and digital television.

"Pay-per-view is one of the strands of the ever more complex range of platforms available," Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Football League said yesterday. He added that the main purpose of tomorrow's game (which starts at 6pm and will be screened on Sky Box office at pounds 7.95 per subscriber) was not to make money, but to gauge fan opinion and quantify precisely how much such games are worth.

"We have to look at ways of making the most of our TV deals," Scudamore said. "One of my key responsibilities is to generate money for our clubs," he added, but said he was not in a position yet to estimate tomorrow's take-up rate.

The Oxford v Sunderland match will be the first in a series of six "screen tests" between now and the end of May. The next will be Second Division Colchester's home game with Manchester City on 20 March, with the others to be decided. All six will be in addition to games already scheduled by Sky.

The matches shown during the experiment, Scudamore said, had been chosen because the away sides have a large away following unable to attend in person. The matches would be sell-outs, he added, and therefore there was no possibility of a negative effect on attendance. "We want to know more [about the demands for PPV]," Scudamore said. Tomorrow he will.