First shots fired in UK domestic battle for Premiership TV rights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 December, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 December, 1999, 12:00am

The question of TV rights has become a vexing one to football fans around the world. Sports properties, and soccer in particular, are seen as essential for building viewership, especially for subscriber-based systems like satellite and cable stations.

Hence in the boomtime 90s the price for the right to show the games has rocketed.

The rights for the Premier League are due to expire in 2001 and current joint holders BSkyB and the BBC are expecting a fierce challenge from ITV and new players ONDigital and NTL.

With that in mind, BSkyB tried to buy out Manchester United, presumably as a back-door means of influencing the next rights allocation or at least gaining some insurance in the event of losing the rights. That bid failed, of course.

But BSkyB have not been sitting back since then. According to reports in the UK, they have been busy making behind-the-scenes overtures to 'certain prominent clubs' to soften them up for the vote. The figure being mentioned in a so-called 'informal' bid by BSkyB is no less than ?1 billion for a three-year deal.

Staggering as that may sound, it is only a natural progression. BSkyB paid ?446 million for three years' worth in 1992 and ?670 million to renew it in 1996.

The FA Cup coverage on CABLE this past week was exemplary except for one query. Why was there no game shown at the usual 11pm slot on Saturday? We had the early kick-off from Hereford and then . . . nothing. At least the remaining games on Sunday (Huddersfield v Liverpool and Spurs v Newcastle) and Monday (Ipswich v Southampton) were good value.

There are two juicy live Premier League matches this weekend, both with South v North themes. West Ham v Manchester United is the live game of choice tomorrow and Chelsea v Leeds the only game on Sunday.

There's a belter of a game from Spain, too, late on Saturday (4am on Sunday) as leaders Deportivo La Coruna take on second-placed Celta Vigo who are five points behind. Deportivo and Celta are both from the Galicia region of Spain, until now better known for its fishing industry, but both have impressed at various times throughout the 1990s.

The Italian Serie A is about to take a two-week break after this weekend's programme but it's going out with a bang as Parma v Roma and Fiorentina v Juventus are two of the four live games on CABLE.