No more exclusive soccer for BskyB?



BSkyB looks set to lose its exclusive rights to live Premiership matches as it emerged the UK Premier League plans to split its main media rights package. Reflecting the concerns of the European Commission, which wants to see more matches made available and more competition among broadcasters, the football body decided to change the shape of its next rights package starting with the 2004-05 season. Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore, said: "We have offered what we believe to be an extremely varied and attractive set of rights, which will give consumers greater choice than ever before." The league is offering three live packages, with a total of 138 games - 32 more than in the current deal.

The new plans were announced as the League launched the tendering process for match rights between 2004 and 2007. Under the new deals a 'Gold' package will contain 38 'first pick' games to be screened mostly at 4pm on Sundays. Whichever broadcaster buys this package will choose the best game of the week and it will be moved from the traditional Saturday slot accordingly.

The second package and third packages ('Silver' and 'Bronze') cover the remaining fixtures, which will be available for a range of time slots between Saturday afternoon and Monday evening, with the likelihood that the third level will be for PPV platforms.

There are no rules preventing one bidder buying all the packages. There is also nothing to stop broadcasters combining to buy a package and then splitting the games. In theory the BBC and ITV could buy one package and then share it. Highlights packages are also available.

Sky, the BBC and ITV are expected to be the main bidders for all the packages. Sky paid E1.54 billion for its current deal, which expires at the end of the coming season. ITV paid E270 million for highlights.