Blighty pay TV nets vie for soccer rights

Bids shoot on goal

LONDON — The top dog in British pay TV for the next three years will be decided Thursday.

That’s when satcaster BSkyB will find out whether it has retained the rights to live Premier League soccer — or has lost out to cabler NTL or terrestrial rival ONdigital.

There has already been one round of bids. NTL offered £1.75 billion ($2.6 billion), topping BSkyB’s $2.25 billion, twice what it bid last time around in 1997. ONdigital is generally seen as a long shot.

Deadline for bids

The league has set today as the deadline for final bids for the three rights packages — 66 annual live matches, 40 pay-per-view and free-to-air highlights — and has promised to announce the winners on Thursday.

But News Corp.-controlled BSkyB may not actually need to stump up the most cash. The satcaster is regarded as having done much for the game, and the league’s 20 clubs may think it better to go with the devil they know.

What price glory?

Even so, the only out-and-out winner will be the league.

Paying through the nose will put a healthy dent in BSkyB’s programming budget, and a victory may do nothing to reverse the downward spiral of its share price, recently exacerbated by Kirch and Vivendi selling part of their minority stakes.

Also in the fray are broadcasters BBC and ITV — both keen on securing the highlights package, currently held by the Beeb.

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