The galloping success of Sky has proven that we are more than happy to pay for our indulgence, to fuel our obsession

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When Don King, the vertically haired boxing promoter, was in England recently, a reporter from Radio 5 Live challenged him about the Mike Tyson return against Pete "knock me down with a feather" McNeeley. Far from being embarrassed about the 90-second farce masquerading as a boxing match he had engineered, King pronounced himself thrilled.

As indeed he would be, since, by dint of a hurricane of hype, he had managed to persuade the American public to part with $90m (pounds 59.6m) to watch the event on television. Pay-for-view it is called, the means by which big events are charged extra on top of your normal subscription. In the case of the Tyson fight, punters paid $40 to watch, which works out at roughly $40m a punch.

King's interviewer then asked him if that was the future for sport in Britain. King's reply was a masterpiece of euphemism. "Thanks to my friends at Sky television," he said. "The public of Great Britain will soon have the possibility and privilege of pay-for-view."

Nice logic that, anticipating we will be grateful for the opportunity of paying for something we used to get for free. But it is the kind of thinking we will become acquainted with: entrepreneurs, such as King and Rupert Murdoch, tend not to make idle predictions when there is large amounts of money to be earned. They are not the only ones. Frank Warren, the boxing promoter who has a deal with King and Sky and manages Frank Bruno, has a dream: within five years all the major sporting events will only be available to the viewing public on pay-TV.

"As for the cost for each view," says Warren. "Take the FA Cup Final, pounds 20 for the match seems reasonable. If that was me, I'd get four friends round and we'd pay pounds 5 apiece. To watch soccer's prestige event, I'd say that was very cheap." Which is fine, Frank. But how many mates are you going to get round to defray the cost of Bolton against Coventry on a Monday night?

Because this is the point: it will start with the FA Cup Final. But then imagine the beneficiaries thinking how much could be made from Eric Cantona's return next Sunday and then work out how hard they will fight the urge to make us pay. Given time, every moment of televised sport will be pay- for-view. Like tout tickets, a market will develop, charging according to the popularity of the occasion. Even within events there would be a charge structure: pounds 15 for the Olympic men's 100 metres, pounds 2.50 for the pole vault final, a refund for watching the synchronised swimming heats.

At the BBC they are ringing their hands at this prospect, knowing that, with a frozen licence fee, they cannot possibly compete for the big sports against the bloated wallet of Murdoch. Their line has been that certain events are part of the national landscape, and, as such, should be made available to all, regardless of ability to pay. There is a logic in this. But you wonder how long, say, the All England Lawn Tennis Club will be prepared to stick with a cheaper BBC deal, when the Murdoch empire is brandishing a cheque in their direction the size of the Centre Court. And if the BBC hopes for the law to be used to protect the wider national interest, how long before Wimbledon is heading off to the European Court screaming restraint of trade?

In a sense we only have ourselves to blame. At first everyone laughed at Sky, with its coverage of the Canadian pro-celebrity log rolling and tractor-pulling from Trondheim. But as serious sport was snapped up - the Premier League, rugby union, top boxing and now, this weekend, the Ryder Cup - we have, however reluctantly, been signing on in droves. Particularly now that you can get it on cable and don't have to have a dish announcing to everyone that you are happy to do business with Murdoch.

Once you get turned on to Sky, you find there is a great deal to satisfy the sad anorak in you: football matches replayed in full at four on a Monday afternoon, highlights packages in the early hours of the morning, endless post mortems involving Andy Gray and a magic marker. In short, the kind of special interest coverage that really could not be justified on a conventional network. This is not broadcasting, it is narrow casting, targeting the obsessives. The galloping success of Sky has proven we are more than happy to pay for our indulgence, to fuel our obsession. And, like dealers hanging around the school gates, they know that now we're hooked we'll pay more.

Which is what we will do. We will kick, we will scream, we will moan, we will whinge. And then we will fork out. The irony is, by the end of the decade the cost of a season ticket to watch your team in the flesh will be considerably cheaper than staying at home and watching them on the box.

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