Rupe could score with soccer rights

Premier League exclusive rights also up for grabs

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch-backed satcaster BSkyB could win exclusive rights to the cream of British soccer after the Football Assn. unveiled controversial plans to auction off England’s international games and the best FA Cup matches on Wednesday.

At present, Sky Sports shares the rights with pubcaster the BBC because former FA chairman Adam Crozier insisted on Sky’s having a terrestrial partner. The FA Cup Final must be broadcast on terrestrial TV by law.

England international games draw sizeable audiences. England’s 2-0 Euro 2004 qualifier victory over Turkey earlier this month drew 10 million viewers on BBC1, the largest football audience since the World Cup tie against Brazil.

BSkyB’s financial weight means it is the only player with deep enough pockets to put in a winning bid.

However, the satcaster could lose exclusive rights to the Premier League, which are also up for grabs.

The European Union is investigating the way these rights are sold and could force the paybox to share them with BBC or commercial channel ITV for the first time in 10 years.

Losing the Premier League would be a huge blow to BSkyB. It considers them a “must have” as 5 million of its 6.6 million digital subscribers pay $624 a year to watch live games on Sky Sports — and may cancel their subs if soccer is pulled.

The pay TV operator paid $1.7 billion when the 2001-2004 contract was negotiated but very few players have the financial firepower to compete with BSkyB.

U.K. broadcasters must express an interest for the various packages of rights by Monday. A decision is expected by September.

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