FA changes its policy on satellite television deals



ENGLAND’S home games and all FA Cup ties, except the final, may be televised live only on satellite or cable in a dramatic change of policy by the FA. The financially troubled governing body is desperate to increase revenue at a time when income from sports rights is static or falling. It has distributed a tender document to broadcasters for a new three-year deal, in which any commitment to free-to-air terrestrial partners is scrapped.
If a satellite or cable broadcaster, such as BSkyB, were to take over all these games between 2004 and 2007, there would be outrage among football supporters and disquiet among the FA’s five leading sponsorship partners. These are Umbro, Nationwide, McDonald’s, Carlsberg and Pepsi.

An industry insider said yesterday: “I am sure that these commercial partners of the FA will be extremely keen for the FA to negotiate a new broadcasting deal which incorporates a significant element of terrestrial coverage, as this is where a sponsor’s interest principally lies.”

The present three-year £405 million agreement, which expires in summer 2004, is with Sky and the BBC. Sky paid the larger share, about £270 million, of the present deal but had second choice of FA Cup ties and risked losing viewers for England games when competitive matches were also shown simultaneously on terrestrial television.

BSkyB, in which The News Corporation, the parent company of The Times, has a 35.4 per cent stake, has exclusive live rights to home friendly internationals. Rights for England games abroad can be bought individually by any broadcaster, except for the final stages of the World Cup and European Championship, which are — along with the FA Cup Final — on the Government’s list of events that have to be screened on terrestrial television.

Adrian Bevington, an FA spokesman, said yesterday: “We have commenced the tender process after several months of discussions with all of our main broadcast partners. It is entirely correct to point out that the successful bid could come from one of those broadcast partners or a partnership between them could prove successful. However, at this stage, we are still at the opening phase of the whole process.”

The FA has to cut 20 per cent of its costs and is saddled with a large commitment to the rebuilding of Wembley. It must be hoping that BSkyB will be prepared to bid more for exclusive rights to all England home games, although the FA will have to balance any extra cash with its commitments to its sponsors and to supporters. However, outside leading tournaments, England’s home games only began to be shown live on terrestrial television on a regular basis when the BBC and Sky joined forces three years ago.

A BBC official declined to comment on the tender document. This outlines the six separate FA rights packages to bid for, ranging from package A, including all England home games and first-choice FA Cup ties, to package F, which contains fixtures such as the FA Vase final. A decision is expected by September.

It is also understood that the document contains the possibility of live FA Cup ties before 5pm on a Saturday and the first chance to screen some ties on a pay-per-vew basis. The FA is offering kick-off times as early as 4.45pm to potential broadcasters for live FA Cup ties. This could cut attendances.

The document also requires broadcasters to give verbal mentions within programmes to the FA’s commercial partners. This might cause difficulties with the BBC, which has strict regulations over advertising. The whole issue of the new television deals is complicated because rights to the Premiership from 2004-07 are being negotiated simultaneously and companies may have to bid for both deals without knowing whether they have been successful in either.

When asked why all England games are not listed, a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “Not all of them meet the criteria for listing, such as early qualifying matches against weaker nations.”