Premier League clubs could be in for another massive television cash windfall with a serious challenge to Sky's domination of top-flight domestic TV coverage by Al Jazeera now a "realistic prospect", according to the European head of ESPN.
The possibility of the Qatar-owned broadcaster going head to head with Sky has been speculated on ever since it beat Canal Plus to the French Ligue 1 and Champions League rights.
Now Ross Hair, head of ESPN for Europe, Middle East and Africa, believes Al Jazeera are likely to challenge Sky - a move which if successful would pose a serious threat to the Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster.
The spin-off of a bidding war for the clubs could be a lot more cash for the 2013-16 domestic rights - the current three-year deal is already worth £1.782billion.
Hair told the Evening Standard: "We're expecting another Premier League auction in April or May. An Al Jazeera bid is a realistic prospect.
"They have done something very interesting in France in buying first division football against the incumbent satellite broadcaster Canal Plus and we've also looked at what they've done in other markets.
"You can draw parallels with the upcoming auction in the UK. Al Jazeera have the ambition to grow further in sport and into other markets."
ESPN are also set to bid as they are desperate to retain their foothold in the Premier League market - they currently show 23 live matches a season.
Premier League football has been the driving force of Sky's satellite TV success in the UK but they have not had a challenger of such potential threat before.
The financial muscle of Qatar has seen Al Jazeera become a major player in football rights, a process that accelerated when the Middle Eastern country won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
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- Tim Cahill