LONDON — Carlton Communications is negotiating to buy Arsenal soccer club for a reported $459 million, hot on the heels of Rupert Murdoch’s agreeing to buy Manchester United soccer club for $1.04 billion (Daily Variety, Sept. 9).
Carlton, along with Granada Media Group, is one of the two big companies of the ITV network, by far the U.K.’s largest commercial terrestrial web. Talks with Arsenal — which, like United, is an English Premier League team — are believed to have been under way for some time but are not thought to be close to conclusion.
Murdoch is buying Man U through the News Corp.-controlled satcaster BSkyB, which holds the ex-clusive broadcasting rights to the Premier league until the 2001-2 season, acquired for more than $1 billion two years ago. The BSkyB/Manchester deal — should it clear government scrutiny — will mark the first time a broadcaster has bought a British soccer team.
Carlton — and there are rumors that other Brit broadcasters may weigh into the soccer-buying frenzy — may be looking for leverage for the rights to the Premier League, which used to be held by ITV, when they next come up for negotiation.
Many observers consider Murdoch’s deal as an insurance policy on two fronts. When Premier League rights come up for renewal, the owner of Manchester United will hold the upper hand because Man U is the most important team.
Secondly, clubs — pending a review currently under way — could soon be allowed to negotiate TV rights individually rather than collectively. Once again, where United leads, other soccer clubs may be forced to follow.