United eye TV channel

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The Independent Online
BY RHYS WILLIAMS

Media Correspondent

Manchester United are exploring the possibility of adding a television channel to their already extensive multi-million pound merchandising operation.

Robin Launders, United's financial director, confirmed yesterday that the project was "one of many things" being considered by the club, but refused to provide details. Launders said: "There is not a mature view on this at the moment. These projects get put forward by the score. We're not just talking about television, but a whole range of merchandising ideas. Obviously there are a whole load of filtering mechanisms to go through still."

The channel, provisionally named Manchester United TV, would aim to broadcast every Manchester United game live either on satellite or cable. The club currently sells a video update of the team's cup and Premiership progress every two months, which features edited highlights, players' interviews and all the goals. It is thought that the station would make extensive use of this style of programming.

The major barrier to the venture would be BSkyB's £304m deal for live and exclusive coverage of Premiership matches, which still has two seasons to run. If United wanted to broadcast exclusively all its League games, it would have to seek some form of opt-out from the Premiership deal from BSkyB. That is bound to prove difficult since United represent one of BSkyB's big draws - the team has appeared 12 times this season.

Alternatively, the club could reach an agreement with BSkyB allowing it to show matches not being covered by the satellite broadcaster. It is on this basis that Newcastle United screen many of their games live in a local cinema. Like Newcastle, Manchester United's home games are massively over-subscribed. Season-ticket holders account for nearly three- quarters of Old Trafford's 43,800 capacity, with the remainder allocated among a further 100,000 club members.

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