BBC wins rights to highlights as Sky seal £1bn live deal

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BSkyB Will retain its monopoly of live Premiership matches until 2007, the Premier League announced yesterday. The broadcaster will pay £1.024bn in total to show 138 live games per season for three years from the start of the 2004-05 season.

In a coup for the BBC, the corporation has won back the rights from ITV for highlights of top-flight games, meaning Match Of The Day "proper" - with league football as opposed to occasional FA Cup ties - will return. The deal is worth £105m over three seasons.

The BSkyB deal is good news for the League's 20 clubs, proving that the rights' value has not crashed, as some had feared. BSkyB paid £1.1bn for its current three-year deal, which is entering its final year. The downside is that the European Commission may yet challenge the sale of all the League's live rights to one broadcaster.

The Commission had objected to the way the rights were sold last time around on the basis that they were sold as one package, which it said was anti-competitive. The League responded by selling the 2004-2007 rights in four packages. These have all been bought by BSkyB.

Richard Scudamore, the League's chief executive, said he believed the Commission should have no problem with the new deals. "Today's announcement is the culmination of a competitive tendering process for our UK live and free-to-air highlights packages," said. "BSkyB has won each of the four live packages individually... This is consistent with the negotiations we've had with the commission and we feel it meets their concerns."

The Commission is likely to scrutinise the new deals carefully. In seeking a break-up of the way the live rights were sold, its tacit aim was for more than one broadcaster to screen live games. It challenged the sale of Champions' League rights on the same basis, which led to two broadcasters - BSkyB and ITV - both buying live rights to that competition from this season. The Commission therefore sought no further break-up of Champions' League rights.

The four Premier League packages secured by BSkyB comprise a "gold" package of 38 Sunday games, a "silver" package of 38 Monday games and two third-tier "bronze" packages of 31 Saturday matches each, scheduled for either 1.15pm or 5.15pm. The gold and silver packages should be available as part of BSkyB's normal subscription service. The company has the option of charging on a pay-per-view basis for one or both of the bronze packages.

"We are pleased that the bid for these packages has reflected once again the quality and success of our league," Scudamore said. "Everyone in football will welcome the continuity and stability that this provides."

He added: "We still have to conclude arrangements for our 12 remaining audio-visual packages for the UK and Eire, including those for new media, as well as our audio rights and overseas rights."

Under the terms of the new live rights deals, the traditional 3pm Saturday kick-off will become a minority occasion in the top division. But Scudamore said that supporters who had been angered by the ever-changing kick-off times had to understand that television revenue had become "the lifeblood of the game".

"I meet with supporters' groups all the time," he said. "There was a trade-off at the end of the day. It's unrealistic to think games are not going to be moved.

"Either we have these games broadcast at 3pm, which has real consequences for the lower leagues and the grassroots, or we move them to keep them clear of that 3pm slot. You can't have it both ways, you can't have games being televised without moving them."

Of the highlights package, he added of ITV and the BBC: "They are both credible broadcasters. We are delighted with what ITV have done. For nine years we were also delighted with what the BBC did with it. The BBC's bid was financially more attractive. ITV have done a great job but I think the viewer will get a great job from the BBC. This announcement ought to bring some calm and some stability to the football business."