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
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
But perhaps the greatest commercial opportunity is staring the BBC in
the face, just around the back of Television Centre: Queens Park
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