U.K.’s soccer storm

ITV, NTL teaming to take games from Sky

Two of the U.K.’s biggest communications companies, terrestrial web ITV and cabler NTL, have mounted a joint bid to wrest control of premium soccer rights from Rupert Murdoch-backed satcaster BSkyB.

ITV and NTL, latter soon to merge with rival Telewest, have indicated that they will at least match what BSkyB is believed to pay for exclusive live coverage of U.K. Premier League games.

In a joint letter to the soccer authorities, chief execs Charles Allen of ITV and Simon Duffy of NTL outlined a guarantee to pay 50% of the present market value for half the season’s games.

“As a means of minimizing the risk for the Premier League in changing the auction structure, ITV and NTL would consider offering the Football Assn. Premier League an upfront guarantee of at least 50% of the current rights fee in return for 50% of the live matches,” Allen and Duffy wrote.

Premier League soccer is the main driver of BSkyB’s subscription business; it has successfully outbid rivals for the rights four separate times since 1992.

The next round of negotiations could prove more problematic for Sky because the European Commission wants to break the monopoly of rights and ensure that other broadcasters get a piece of the action.

However, the soccer authorities are at loggerheads with Brussels over freeing up rights. The letter from Allen and Duffy is designed to help them reconsider their position.

ITV and NTL want to show Premier League matches on both free-to-air and pay platforms. The latter, NTL insists, would be considerably cheaper than what BSkyB charges customers.

BSkyB paid around £340 million ($612 million) a year for Premier League rights in a three-year deal that ends in 2006.

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