NEWS: BSkyB wins the Premier TV game

BSkyB’s victory over rivals in the fight for the FA Carling Premiership trophy last week will change the way football is broadcast forever.

BSkyB’s victory over rivals in the fight for the FA Carling Premiership

trophy last week will change the way football is broadcast forever.

The decision came as no surprise. A victory for the Mirror Group/Carlton

bid or United News and Media was a remote possibility. Lord Hollick’s

United in particular faced tough odds.

BSkyB had much in its favour, and not only because of its deep pockets.

The broadcaster has won over many fans with the way it has improved

televised football.

BSkyB has more than doubled its number of subscribers since it first

secured the FA Carling Premiership in 1992. Now it is set to chart the

future of football with pay-per-view TV.

Perhaps the only surprise was that BSkyB got it so cheap. Sure, Rupert

Murdoch paid pounds 670 million - more than double what he forked out

last time - to broadcast the nation’s favourite sport, but many believe

he could have paid much more.

David Cuff, the broadcast director at Initiative Media, claims: ‘The

Premiership is a prime product and the price of decent quality content

is going up. Some were talking of a figure around pounds 1 billion.’

The success of the Premiership football BSkyB alliance echoes that of

Murdoch’s Fox network in the US, which built itself up on the strength

of American football. Failure to secure the rights for a second spell

would have risked the loss of subscribers, with churn rates rising to

match those of BSkyB’s pre-footballing years.

In the end, the pounds 670 million deal, which will keep the Premiership

on Sky Sports until 2001, was probably forced up slightly by the joint

Mirror Group/Carlton Communications bid of pounds 650 million for five

years and United’s pounds 1.6 billion ten-year offer.

ITV recently won the right to cover the FA Cup, which gives it - as

Edward Lloyd Barnes, a director at IDK, puts it - ‘football that

somebody wants to watch’.

However, ITV has failed to win the Premiership highlights, which stayed

with the BBC’s Match of the Day. This is what some believed was the real

battleground and the failure to prise the highlights from the BBC -

which paid pounds 73 million to keep them - was a disappointment.

Chris Boothby, the broadcast director at BBJ Media Services, comments:

‘While it would have been difficult for ITV to fit live games into the

schedule, there were a lot of people looking for ITV to pick up the

highlights package. Even though it had been with the BBC for so long, it

would have been good to see that going to ITV. But, in the end, the BBC

paid a lot of money.’

The real change comes in two seasons’ time with the introduction of what

the FA Premiership is calling ‘experimental’ pay-per-view TV, which is

the future of football on TV. Fears that this revolution will oust

advertisers from the coverage are misplaced, at least in the short term,

but the role of programme sponsorship is likely to come to the fore as

channels proliferate.

Most observers believe the fans will pick up the tab for the BSkyB deal.

As with football clubs, which turn to the fans with higher prices for

games and merchandise, BSkyB will raise the cost of its service.

A spokesperson for the FA would not be drawn on its plans with BSkyB for

pay per view - beyond stating the obvious: that, to begin with at least,

it would only involve a limited number of games.

Quite how much pay per view will cost when it arrives in 1998 is

unclear, but fans could be paying pounds 5 or pounds 6 per match. The

profits will help drive BSkyB’s digital satellite ambitions. This is

where the next chapter lies with, eventually, a single channel per team

- brought to you by Ford, Adidas, Caffrey’s or whoever - available for

the price of an electronic season ticket.

The increasing power of BSkyB within the sporting world was further

underlined this week, with the signing of an pounds 87.5 million

unilateral deal with the English Rubgy Football Union. The deal, which

gives Sky the exclusive rights to all Twickenham games for the next five

years, could lead to the expulsion of England from the Five Nations


Premiership Football: the bids


Led by: Sam Chisholm, chief executive of BSkyB

Market capitalisation: pounds 7.7 billion

Bid: pounds 670 million for four years

The strongest bid by a long way, and BSkyB had the advantage of being

the incumbent at a time of massive change in broadcasting. Having the

deepest pockets probably also helped.

United News and Media

Led by: Lord Hollick, chairman of United News and Media

Market capitalisation: pounds 3.7 billion

Bid: pounds 1.6 billion for ten years

Seen very much as a long shot after a deal with Pearson fell through.

Mirror Group and Carlton Communications

Led by: Kelvin MacKenzie, managing director of Mirror TV

Market capitalisation: pounds 3.7 billion

Bid: pounds 650 million for five years

A strong bid with roots in cable. The setting up of a channel and

building a new subscriber base were its biggest problems.