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The Two Billion Pound Ball Game
Monday May 15 2000
Reporter Paul Kenyon
Producer Janice Finch

The Premiership's TV rights auction could bring up to two billion pounds into football. Panorama investigates what effects this gold rush will have on the future of the game and who will be the real winners and losers.

At present a disproportionate share of the TV millions goes to the Premiership's top clubs, making them increasingly richer. And the income disparity is getting wider all the time.

The top clubs able to buy the best players leading to further success on the field.

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Critics say the Premier League is separating into an elite group of top teams, a middle tier, and finally a bottom group of teams who struggle to stay in the Premiership from the first day of the season.

Bradford City won promotion to the Premier League last season. As new arrivals, they have only received one year of Sky money and are much poorer than the League's top clubs. The team's managers and players knew that they cannot challenge the top teams on the pitch.

Lee Sharpe of Bradford City
Lee Sharpe
Lee Sharpe, one of the Bradford players recognises the gulf: "I think there is a massive gap. The manager said at the start of the season we had to play in our own little mini-league at the bottom, sort of 6, 8 teams and it's turned out that way in the end. There are 5 or 6 of us scrapping to stay up. There is a massive gap from top to bottom".

I think there is a massive gap. The manager said at the start of the season we had to play in our own little mini-league at the bottom, sort of 6, 8 teams and it's turned out that way in the end. There are 5 or 6 of us scrapping to stay up. There is a massive gap from top to bottom

Lee Sharpe, Bradford City

The first time Sky won the rights to screen live Premiership games, in 1991, the then struggling company paid 304 million. The number of Sky subscribers rocketed from one and a half million to more than three million in the first five years.

In 1996, when the auction came round again, Sky was able to afford a winning bid of 670 million.

But there has a been a price for the armchair football fan. In the beginning, Sky cost 9.99 per month, now a full package costs 32 per month.

The question is how will the new money affect the game. The increasing importance of European competition may encourage the top clubs to concentrate on international competition at the expense of the home game. The desire for more European games has led to suggestions that Europe's top teams abandon the domestic league to form a European super league.

New opportunities

The Internet revolution provides another potentially huge revenue stream for Premiership clubs. This is the first time Internet rights are mentioned as part of the TV deal. Fans will be able to watch football matches on the Internet.

Manchester United's website
Manchester United's website
Internet distribution could widen the wealth gap between Premiership teams still further: Clubs will be able to sell the Internet rights by themselves, and will not have to share their revenues with other clubs. Initially the games will not be live; but will be webcast 48 hours after the game ended. Huge revenues will be generated when matches are shown live, with games accessed from anywhere in the world on a pay per view basis.

Manchester United has a massive international following, particularly in the Far East. Internet broadcasts of live games featuring the team could boost the club's market value by around forty percent.

Related links:

Sportal website

The official website of the F.A Carling Premier League

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The Two Billion Pound Ball Game
Paul Kenyon joins Chelsea fans on the new terraces
The Two Billion Pound Ball Game
Chris Smith addresses concerns about TV companies buying up stakes in football clubs

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