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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK


Football revolution

Premier League club shares soar on media takeover speculation

Football could be standing on the verge of a revolution, with media giants scrambling to buy up clubs.

The Manchester United-BSkyB tie-up has set the scene for an ownership shake-up in the Premier League.

Arsenal Football Club and Carlton have already confirmed that they are holding talks about a potential alliance.

Meanwhile, the shareprices of other major clubs listed on the stock exchange have risen sharply as takeover speculation intensifies.

Carlton, which runs London's ITV franchise, has told the stock exchange that it is holding preliminary talks with Arsenal over "a range of ways the two companies could work together".


Correspondent Kevin Geary talks to BBC News 24 from Highbury Stadium
Carlton's approach to Arsenal follows BSkyB's audacious £623m takeover bid for Manchester United.

A Carlton bid for the Arsenal, the Premier League Champions, or another leading club would seem a logical counter to BSkyB's Manchester United bid.

Carlton is one of BSkyB's main competitors in the race to set up a digital television service.

Digital revolution

BSkyB is set to unveil its new digital service next month, and football coverage is likely to form the centrepiece of its new 200 channel service.

Carlton has joined forces with Granada Television to set up ON Digital, a digital television service, which customers will be able to receive without a satellite dish.

Broadcasting rights to football and other sports have proven crucial to success in pay-TV operations.

Rupert Murdoch's interest in Manchester United has highlighted the hidden value in football clubs for broadcasters looking for the inside running in securing those rights.

The value of broadcasting rights for live matches is set to soar, as pay per view television becomes a reality and a European Super League hovers on the horizon.


[ image: Arsenal may be next to fall]
Arsenal may be next to fall
Just as importantly if BSkyB does take control of Manchester United, rivals fear it will have a vice like grip on the game, controlling both broadcasting rights and the UK's largest club.

When Premiership broadcasting rights come up for auction again in 2001 BSkyB will have a distinct advantage over its rivals in the race to secure live games.

And if, following an impending government investigation into the Premier League, clubs are forced to negotiate broadcasting rights on an individual basis BSkyB will be able to count on broadcasting Manchester United games.

The threat of a dominant BSkyB prompted Carlton to act, with other rivals perhaps soon to follow, looking to buy up clubs in order to create a viable force to take on Mr Murdoch's growing sporting empire.

So who are the runners and riders in the race to buy up more football clubs?

Target teams

Arsenal's recent on-field successes make it the logical next target and its not surprising that Carlton has popped up at Highbury talking tie-ups.

Manchester United's and Arsenal's major Premiership rivals such as Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle United are also in the frame.

Birmingham-based club Aston Villa has also been linked to Carlton although the latest from Villa is that they're talking to no media group currently.

These clubs are owned by either a single businessman or small number of large shareholders who may be tempted to sell out at the right price.


[ image: Granada is among the likely bidders]
Granada is among the likely bidders
In most cases the clubs were brought up by wealthy entrepreneurs who could seek to make a tidy profit on their investment.

Computer impresario Alan Sugar is reported to be keen to sell his majority stake in Tottenham Hotspur.

Other may follow. Sir John Hall and his family may be tempted to severe links with Newcastle United after a turbulent year at the club, and the Moores family could be persuaded to give up their 68% stake in Liverpool football club.

Steven Barnett, a football expert from the University of Westminster said: "It is probably sooner than most of us would have expected but its predictable. The next question is who is going to follow. There will almost certainly be another bid withing the next few weeks."

Shoot-out

There is no shortage of potential buyers.

Carlton's partner in the digital television arena could also be keen to buy its own football club.

Manchester-based Granada had already expressed an interest in Manchester United in the past.


[ image: Alan Sugar could be ready to sell out]
Alan Sugar could be ready to sell out
If the group is pipped to the post by BSkyB they may look elsewhere. Liverpool would seem an obvious target but there are rumours of talks with Leeds.

Other media groups such as United News & Media and Mirror could also be in the frame.

ENIC, the sports and restaurants group backed by Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis, and Time Warner, one of the world's biggest media conglomerates, is known to have been interested in Manchester United.

It already owns a string of major investments in leading European clubs, including Glasgow Rangers, and is unlikely to be far from any takeover action.

All change

Even international sportswear groups such as Nike and Adidas could look at acquiring clubs, rather than continue to fork out millions of pounds on renewing expensive sponsorship deals.

One thing seems certain. Rupert Murdoch's bid for Manchester United is likely to change the face of football forever.

It is no longer just a simple sport, but more a media event.



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In this section

Inquiry chief reassures Man Utd fans

Bid rumours 'unfounded'

Countdown to the deal

Murdoch's dash to the goal

Murdoch's rise to the top

Who's afraid of Rupert Murdoch?

Man Utd: the jewel in football's crown

Is Mandelson a match for Murdoch?