MEDIA: Sky’s bid for the Reds should not give us the blues

Politicians have predictably expressed alarm about BSkyB putting together a transfer deal for Manchester United. As usual they are barking up the wrong tree. Rupert Murdoch has no intention of taking over Alex Ferguson’s job and Man Utd director Greg Dyke does not plan to oust Andy Gray from Sky Sport, although he undoubtedly has natural talent.

Politicians have predictably expressed alarm about BSkyB putting

together a transfer deal for Manchester United. As usual they are

barking up the wrong tree. Rupert Murdoch has no intention of taking

over Alex Ferguson’s job and Man Utd director Greg Dyke does not plan to

oust Andy Gray from Sky Sport, although he undoubtedly has natural

talent.



The notion that buying the world’s most famous football club, and one of

the most hated, automatically produces a ’stranglehold’ on the Premier

League is perhaps a trifle exaggerated. What we are talking here is

insurance policies - very expensive insurance polices. If the

Restrictive Practices Court, which meets in January to decide whether

the television rights deal between BSkyB, the BBC and the Premier League

amounts to an unacceptable cartel, was to decide the unthinkable ... And

the slight problem with the Restrictive Practices Court is that there is

no appeal on matters of fact.



In such circumstances, Sky would at least be able to show the live games

of Manchester United every Saturday.



What the politicians haven’t spotted is that the real problem with BSkyB

owning a football club is that all the other media owners will want one

too. Soon all the orange creams will have gone and only the nut clusters

will be left.



Tottenham Hotspur is an obvious target for Michael Green, although he

really prefers boxing.



Alan Sugar only wants pounds 80m, although Green will have to move fast

as the price will be going up by the minute now that manager Christian

Gross has been fired.



No dilemmas for Lord Hollick. This will be one of the rare occasions

when he allows his heart to rule his head. So United News & Media will

buy Southampton. It may not be Man Utd but at least for now it’s one

vote per club around the table.



Equally no doubts at all for Michael Grade’s First Leisure. Grade is

already on the board of Charlton and there’s all that money from selling

Blackpool Tower to strengthen the squad. Associated Newspapers’

prospects are trickier.



There’s a grave danger it will want to start its own club and then

express surprise when the team still hasn’t made it out of the Vauxhall

Conference by the year 2005.



The Mirror Group already has useful links with Millwall through Live TV

and shouldn’t be put off by the fact the lads are in the Second Division

at the moment. The shareholders would be very supportive of an

approach.



But perhaps the greatest commercial opportunity is staring the BBC in

the face, just around the back of Television Centre: Queens Park

Rangers.



After all, the BBC is planning to squander pounds 1bn on digital over

the next five years so how about it buying some content? Chris Wright,

of Chrysalis, the only media owner who has actually taken the plunge so

far, might be prepared to listen to reasonable offers.



But the real point is that when all the media owners have their own

football teams maybe the marketing community will wake up and, if not

actually buy a club of their own, at least begin to take football

seriously.



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