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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Pubs square up to Sky on football fees
By Clare Matheson
BBC News Online business reporter

With the start of the Premiership season just days away, pubs and BSkyB are heading for battle.

Man Utd win 2002/3 premiership
Live football drags big audiences into pubs
The broadcaster has provoked uproar among publicans by deciding to increase its annual subscription for Sky Sports by an average of 20%.

Currently, around 30,000 pubs and clubs across the UK subscribe to the channel in an effort to attract more customers, at an average of 280 a month.

But many pubs fear subscription rises could price Sky out of their range.

OFT review?

The Beer and Pub Association (BPA) and the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations (FLVA) have teamed up to question Sky's price increase.

The pair have now sent a joint letter to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) calling for a probe into the channel's control over live football.

Very simply, pubs are a business. They make a commercial decision to subscribe to the service
Sky spokesman
BPA chief Rob Hayward said the two groups have urged the OFT to "re-review" Sky's charging system.

He added they OFT declined to carry out such an inquiry in 2001, but left the door open for the pair to reapply for a review.

"With the subscription rising by seven times the rate of inflation I think the circumstances have changed enough to reconsider the situation," Mr Hayward said.

'Pubs have a choice'

But Sky was unrepentant about the price rise, which is set to come into force in September.

Pubs generic
Will pubs suffer by axing live football?
A spokesman said: "Very simply, pubs are a business. They make a commercial decision to subscribe to the service if they believe it will help attract customers and make more money.

"We think our service is high quality and good value for money which drives customers in on evenings that wouldn't be busy.

"In the end, pubs make a commercial decision to offer Sky for customers."

The rate pubs are charged for Sky Sports depends on their size and location.

Soccer brings in customers

Yvonne Kahn, landlady of The Bell in Walthamstow, east London, said she "wasn't too pleased" about the higher charges.

"It's risen from 345 to 635 a month and we've only been open 14 weeks.

Sky is ridiculously expensive
Amgelique Doucet, Landlady
"If you want pay-per-view its 411 on top of the 635 a month.

"I'm worried about a loss in business, but being a new business we'll have to consider it being cut because we've just opened."

But at the nearby College Arms, landlady Amgelique Doucet said: "We do need football for customers, that's the problem.

"We took over six months ago but didn't have Sky for a while. To make money you need customers, the pub is in a big football area - Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal - and we have some Manchester United fans.

"More customers are men than women, and they want their football so we need it.

"If we could get a different system we'd use it. It's ridiculously expensive, ridiculous."

'Exploiting the market'?

Mark Hastings, of the BPA, said: "We would love to talk to Sky, but they have proved very reluctant to talk to anyone about their pricing policy on football in pubs.

"They argue it always brings in big crowds, but that's not always the case. Yes, big England matches will, but that's not the case for a Charlton versus Fulham match."

He added that the OFT is currently considering the BPA and FLVA's request for a an inquiry, and that the OFT has had plenty of others demanding the same thing.

In the last few weeks about 140 pubs have taken Sky out, he said.

"The cost to Sky of football has not increased this year, and their future contract includes no real increase so there's nothing in the background to force up their rates."

Mr Hastings said many publicans and companies believe Sky is exploiting the pub market, in a way that does not reflect their treatment of individual subscribers.

He noted that while pub prices continue to rise, to approximately 8.75 a match, prices for individuals have dipped or remained the same - around 1 a game.

"This decision will have a very real impact on community lives, three to four million people a week gather for football at pubs, and that focus will be denied."

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