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Premier league confident rights packages will win EC vote
( 2003-06-20 09:26) (Agencies)

The English premier league is confident of a positive outcome to its row with the European Commission after announcing the tender offer for its next television rights deal on Thursday.

The premier league hopes its offer of a total of 138 live matches, instead of 66, separated into three packages available to individual or joint bidders, is enough to appease the EC, which believes the current selling arrangement is anti-competitive.

"We have not reached a final agreement with the EC, but we would not be offering a tender document if we weren't comfortable we would reach an agreement," premier league spokesman Philip French told reporters on Thursday.

The EC, which launched its investigation last December, believes the premier league's collective selling of rights to broadcast matches amounts to price-fixing and is unfair to both football fans and individual clubs.

Under the current three-year deal, which expires at the end of the coming season, Britain's biggest pay-TV operator BSkyB paid 1.1 billion pounds ($1.84 billion) for the right to screen 66 live matches per season, with ITV buying the smaller free-to-air highlights package.

The commission wants fans to be able to see more live matches, while Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has said smaller clubs would benefit from having more power over their own broadcasting rights.

"So long as the premier league offers several packages, were BSkyB to acquire all the important ones Brussels would not take issue," Investec media analyst Kingsley Wilson said in a research note on Thursday.


The premier league believes what it is offering will also be a way of maximising the value of its rights.

Analysts do not expect the league to be able to attain the sort of sums paid by Sky three years ago, with some estimates as low as 900 million pounds.

A slowdown in the advertising market and the collapse of several potential bidders such as ITV Digital, who pulled out of their three-year deal with the Football League last year owing 178 million pounds, has driven prices down.

"The way these rights packages have been put together makes them commercially attractive," premier league chief executive Richard Scudamore said. "There is something in it for everybody."

The new packages allow for games to be shown on Sunday afternoon, Monday evening or midweek, as well as Saturday before and after the three o'clock blackout, and there will also be the opportunity to show extended highlights.

The premier league has chosen to preserve the Saturday afternoon blackout, when live matches cannot be screened between 3pm and 5pm, despite protests from clubs such as Manchester United last season over too many midday kickoffs.

"Clubs collectively agree that Saturday at 3pm is worth protecting. It recognises the potential of the football structure, down to the grass roots. It would be bad for the game as a whole if we did broadcast at 3pm," Scudamore said.

The first round of bidding closes on July 11.

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