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Archived News from September 2002

21st September 2002 15:00

Fans still in dark over league highlights

Vivek Chaudhary
Saturday September 21, 2002
The Guardian

Nationwide League fans without access to cable or satellite are being prevented from watching their teams on television because of the restrictive nature of the league's contract with BSkyB.
The league has been trying to sell its highlights over the past few weeks but broadcasters have shown little interest, claiming that its contract with BSkyB limits when and how they can show teams in action.

BSkyB's £95m, four-year deal with the league, which was signed after the collapse of ITV Digital, contains severe restrictions over the showing of highlights on other channels.

Several First Division clubs, including Millwall, Birmingham and Crystal Palace, were vocal in objecting when the deal was signed in June, saying they had not been consulted.

BBC and Channel 5 both showed initial interest in broadcasting Football League highlights but believe there is little value left in them because of the BSkyB contract.

The deal stipulates no highlights of the league's matches can be transmitted while any kind of live football is being shown on BSkyB, be it the Premiership or Spanish football. No other broadcaster can even show the goals from Football League matches until they have been broadcast on BSkyB, and the maximum that any other broadcaster can show is 30 minutes.

BSkyB also has the rights to all Worthington Cup matches. Previously, local news bulletins around the country showed brief highlights on a Saturday evening but this has also stopped because they are not given access to any footage by BSkyB .

The restrictive nature of the BSkyB contract has meant that thousands of fans of Football League clubs have been unable to watch their teams in action on terrestrial TV. The strength and attractiveness of the league's highlights package formerly lay with regional ITV broadcasters, which used to show highlights over a weekend.

Though BSkyB has been credited with helping the league after the collapse of ITV Digital, concern is alive within the game that the broadcaster has denied the league further revenue by making its contract so restrictive.

One club chairman who did not want to be named said: "We do not want to be ungrateful, because BSkyB came to our help when we needed it most. But the league rushed into the contract and did not fully think through the implications regarding highlights.

"BSkyB is a wealthy company; it could make it a bit easier for us to sell our highlights so we can generate more revenue."

The league sponsor Nationwide and other club sponsors have expressed concern at their lack of TV exposure, prompting speculation that sponsorship deals throughout the league may be reduced.

The only broadcasters to have made a firm offer to the Football League for highlights have been Carlton and Granada, owners of the now-defunct ITV Digital. The two companies, which own ITV franchises covering the whole country, offered £2m. This was rejected by the league's board.

An ITV source said: "The ITV regions have the most interest in Football League highlights because of the following of local clubs.

"The deal with BSkyB has reduced the attractiveness of the highlights and put off many broadcasters. There are huge limits on when and for how long highlights can be show. In a depressed TV market these restrictions have not helped the Football League."

BSkyB refused to comment on its contract with the Football League.


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