Internet firm denies closure claim

Alan Nixon
Thursday 13 March 2003 01:00

The Football League's troubled internet partner last night reassured clubs fearing aITV Digital-style cash crisis that its business is robust. Premium TV, a subsidiary of the struggling cable giant ntl, has just placed its chief executive officer on "gardening leave" and announced a fresh wave of staff redundancies. Reports yesterday claimed the company could close down and leave League clubs facing a multi-million shortfall.

In September, ntl's financial problems forced Premium to renegotiate its £65m deal to run club websites, paying off the £35m balance when revenue is generated, rather than in up-front rights fees. League clubs are still suffering from a £131.9m shortfall caused by the failure of ITV Digital.

Fears over the future of Premium grew this week when the CEO Jonathan Sykes left the firm's offices in Feltham, Middlesex, and another clutch of staff were told they had lost their jobs. However, Clive Hammond, a Premium spokesman, said suggestions they could become a victim of the bust were "rubbish". "This is a time of real change in the industry and you wouldn't find any company not facing those kind of changes in their workforce," he said. "The whole industry is now changing very dramatically."

The Football League also insisted yesterday that it had no suggestion Premium was in trouble. Ian Christon, a League spokesman, said: "There has been no indication that Premium is on verge of collapse. Ntl clearly have financial difficulties but are pulling themselves out of it. Premium is the biggest sports internet portal in the country and potentially a huge business. It should be a huge revenue stream when it is fully developed."

Promotion-chasing Ipswich Town will be forced to sell a player inside the next month as the administrators put financial pressure on them. The striker Marcus Bent is favourite to leave, with Fulham and Birmingham in talks about picking him up for around £750,000, although he could not play for them until next season.

Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager, may trade Bent rather than have to sell one of their youngsters, Darren Ambrose and Darren Bent, who are wanted by a number of Premiership sides. The cash problem is dogging Ipswich as they try to make the top six, but the administrators are demanding that someone is sold to pay off some of their spiralling debts.

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