U.K.’s Ondigital, ITV share soccer rights

Three-year deal worth £315 million

LONDON — In yet another Brit soccer deal, ONdigital and the ITV network have picked up the TV rights to the Football League and the Worthington Cup for £315 million ($472.5 million) for three years starting in 2001.

ONdigital will be the lead broadcaster, airing at least 88 matches per season, some pay-per-view. ITV will show 15 matches plus some semi-finals and the finals.

ONdigital — co-owned by ITV companies Carlton and Granada — is at present satcaster BSkyB’s chief rival. Its key sports programming is UEFA Champions League soccer, which is pan-European. The terrestrial web also carries BSkyB’s sports channels.

The Football League consists of the divisions below the English Premier League. The Worthington Cup is a nominally important tournament in which all of the divisions, and the Premier League, participate.

But the deal pales against the awarding of the rights to Premier League soccer, which were split among BSkyB, cabler NTL and ITV for $2.5 billion (Daily Variety, June 15).

It is likely also less important than the BBC’s estimated $180 million purchase of the rights to the FA Cup and England international matches (Daily Variety, June 16).

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