League stunned by loss of £328m pay-per-view deal

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The Independent Online

A meeting of Premier League chairmen in London today will demand to be told why a Pay-Per-View television deal worth £328m due to begin next August has collapsed. Last night neither the Premier League, nor ntl, the cable company who had won the rights to screen up to 40 Premiership games on a PPV basis for each of the next three seasons, would say why they were not proceeding.

A meeting of Premier League chairmen in London today will demand to be told why a Pay-Per-View television deal worth £328m due to begin next August has collapsed. Last night neither the Premier League, nor ntl, the cable company who had won the rights to screen up to 40 Premiership games on a PPV basis for each of the next three seasons, would say why they were not proceeding.

The immediate speculation was that ntl, concerned about either their technology or the fine detail of what they would be getting for their huge investment, pulled out of the deal due to an inability to control the pricing and packaging of the PPV matches. It is understood that the Premier League was not prepared to allow ntl the right to exclude Sky from distributing the games over its satellite system.

The restrictions imposed by the Premier League would have prevented ntl from using PPV as a free incentive to induce subscribers to sign up to cable packages. The company is believed to have decided that this restriction made the business plan for the original bid unworkable.

A statement from the company, which is based in Hook, Hampshire, said: "Naturally we are very disappointed we've not been able to complete negotiations which we and the Premier League found satisfactory. Under the terms of our confidentiality agreement we cannot comment any further."

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's chief executive, said: "We respect the fact that ntl have reached this decision. The outlook for the FA Premier League is, however, very positive."

He denied that last week's fiasco, when many subscribers paying u>direct for coverage of the Finland-England international did not receive any, was in any way to blame for the company's decision.

"It had absolutely no impact whatsoever," he said. "The Premier League recommended ntl as a very credible bidder. We remain confident they would have been able to do it well, otherwise we wouldn't have gone that far with them."

Scudamore insisted that his organisation still has "a very valuable asset" to sell, comparing the situation to a house sale arranged subject to contract which falls through but can still be completed with a different buyer.

"We are still in possession of this very valuable asset for which we know there is immense interest," he added.

One crucial factor, however, will be whether BSkyB are allowed to tender, having already won the rights to the main contract for 66 live matches on Sundays and Mondays, worth an estimated £1.1bn. They would not comment yesterday but it is believed that the Premier League were keen for a different company to win the PPV contract so as to avoid any possible legal action based on restrictive practice.

Although Scudamore was in bullish mood, this is the first hitch in what was acclaimed as an excellent deal for football when details of the full £1.64bn package were unveiled last June. ITV beat the BBC for highlights programmes on Saturday and Sunday evening, worth £183m over three years and BSkyB will also pay £22.5m for various interactive rights. Sky games would be at 4pm on Sunday and 8pm on Monday as at present, with the PPV matches showing at 2pm on Sunday.

Before yesterday's news, the main part of the chairmen's meeting today was expected to be a lively discussion about how to divide up all this new-found wealth. The biggest clubs are keen to keep the largest share for themselves, but the majority, led by Coventry City and Southampton, want a more even distribution.

Ntl's recently acquired interests in Everton and Newcastle - they are also shirt sponsors of Celtic and Rangers - are not expected to be affected by their decision to pull out.

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