NTL stokes Newcastle stake

Cabler is game for soccer Web site, TV channel

LONDON — U.K. cable operator NTL has upped its stake in Newcastle United soccer club and done a deal to take over the club’s commercial operations.

NTL is paying £5 million ($8 million) for 3.6% of Newcastle, raising its total stake to 9.9%, the most media companies are currently allowed to hold in an English Premier League club.

In addition, NTL is loaning Newcastle $40 million, to be repaid after five years with another 9.99% of the club, assuming that surpassing the 10% mark is then permitted.

Media rights

The deal gives NTL control of Newcastle’s media rights for five years. NTL plans to set up a TV channel designated for the club through its subsid Premium TV, and the cabler will handle Newcastle’s Internet interests and merchandising.

NTL’s move mirrors those of satcaster BSkyB and ITV network company Granada. BSkyB has similar stakes in Manchester United, Manchester City and Leeds United, Granada has a stake in Liverpool.

Securing position

U.K. broadcasters are keen to secure their positions in pay TV soccer in the run-up to the next negotiations for the rights to the Premier League.

The current deal with BSkyB expires in 2001. The growth of digital television also presents more opportunities to exploit soccer rights.

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