Football: Sky's no limit as Scottish bag pounds 45m for elite

THE NEW Scottish Premiership has hit the jackpot with a pounds 45m four-year deal with Sky which will involve the screening of 30 live matches a year on Sunday evenings from next season after the Football League and English Premiership matches have finished.

The contract represents something like a seven-fold increase on the deal done by the Scottish League, which was worth pounds 12m and was for League, Scottish Cup and Coca-Cola Cup ties. The new deal embraces only league games and, with cup ties taken into account as well, the total value to Scottish football is probably between pounds 80 and pounds 85m.

The Premiership games, which will kick off at 6.05pm, will include three Old Firm matches a season. The League's acting chief executive, Robert Wilson, confirmed that each of the new top-10 clubs will enjoy at least one visit from the Sky cameras each season.

Far from affecting attendances it is believed that it might actually enhance them. The Scots have been impressed with Sky's promotional and marketing ability south of the border and are hoping that increases in attendances in the English Premiership will be replicated in Scotland.

The deal comes a week after Radio Five Live concluded a new pounds 11.5m deal with the Premier League for three seasons, which also compares most favourably with the previous agreement which was worth just pounds 500,000. The BBC, who have lost out recently on FA Cup coverage, Formula One motor racing and one-day cricket, could ill-afford another loss; Talk Radio had expressed an interest in taking over when Five Live's current deal ended next year.

Five Live's audiences have increased substantially in the last year, hitting an all-time high of 5.6 million last month and earlier this year they won the Sony Station of the Year award.

The English Premier League, which is now in the second year of a pounds 670m four-year contract with Sky, last week turned down the satellite company's proposal to conduct a pay-per-view experiment next season.

It was concerned about the reaction of supporters to shifting still more matches to Sunday. They also believe that Sky's initiative was fired by a wish to bring in digital television rather than for the good of the game.

With Five Live's deal now in sync with Sky's for the first time, both contracts expiring in 2001, it means that should the League eventually want to go their own way and introduce digital TV and radio themselves in three years' time there will be a nice clean break from their current partners.

Gerard Houllier last night confirmed he is involved in talks with Sheffield Wednesday about the vacant manager's job, but he added that his services are in demand. The former French national coach holds a high-profile position within the French Football Association, similar to that of the FA's technical director, Howard Wilkinson, but he has indicated that he wants to return to club management after the World Cup finals.

Sheffield United yesterday interviewed the Arsenal midfielder and former England international David Platt about their managerial vacancy.

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