The flags are out at Elland Road and Leeds fans are no doubt
rubbing their hands at the prospect of being able to afford at least one
After all, pounds 13.8 million can still buy you a nifty right foot,
even these days, and if you have to sup with the devil to do it, well at
least you might stand a chance of winning something with the Murdoch
shilling in your back pocket.
Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB has just bought a 9 per cent stake in Leeds
Sporting to add to its stake in Manchester United. But Murdoch was not
the only pariah eyeing Leeds shares.
Granada, which recently bought a 9.9 per cent stake in Liverpool, is
thought to have been one of the interested parties, while Carlton,
United News & Media and NTL are also sniffing around the footie scene
and Spurs, Aston Villa, Southampton, Sunderland and Chelsea are now
among the choicest clubs ripe for a deal. Football, it seems, has become
the game to be in.
But it’s not immediately obvious what media companies have to gain from
the sort of minority-stake deals which have become fashionable. One
insider joked recently that Granada will make more money out of the
catering opportunities arising from its stake in Liverpool FC than from
any TV association.
Financially that may be the case in the short term, but there’s no doubt
that getting a seat at the table will give media companies a real inside
track into rights negotiations for those games not dealt with
collectively by the Premier League. And the future of that collective
bargaining is far from certain.
Of course, this is the nub of BSkyB’s interest. If Sky fails to secure
Premier League rights in the next round of negotiations, its positioning
as the home of football will be shot to pieces. Sky paid a 22 per cent
premium on Leeds shares for the stake, which, as the FT’s Lex column
pointed out last week, ’is an expensive way for Sky to go about securing
options on content’. But if there’s any universal takeout from the
scramble for football deals, it’s this idea of ownership of content.
Any flick round your satellite dial will tell you that there are now too
many channels and not enough good programming to go round. And
spiralling bidding wars for both sporting and creative talent have
become a fact of life for broadcasters.
Sky’s football manoeuvres may seem defensive but they are a recognition
of the fact that now, more than ever, content is king. Without
high-profile events or talent to drive appointment-to-view programming,
TV channels are in danger of being lost in a melange of pap. If the
Premier League rights go elsewhere, Sky has at least a chance of
offering football that many fans will fight to see, and in the
competitive world of multi-channel TV, that’s worth pounds 14 million of
any broadcaster’s money.