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murdochs big match Friday, 9 April, 1999, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Football's future in turmoil
arsenal football club
Arsenal success on the pitch has attracted potential suitors
The UK Government's decision to block a takeover of Manchester United by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB has stunned the world of football.

The deal promises to bring an end to the bidding frenzy that has gripped the sport ever since BSkyB's audacious bid for the most profitable club in the world.

A long queue of media groups were lining up behind BSkyB to grab a piece of the action by bidding for quoted football clubs.

Cables group NTL has already launched a bid for Manchester United's leading rival Newcastle United - a bid which will also face tough scrutiny from the government.

Arsenal has been courted by London based ITV company Carlton Communications, while Tottenham Hotspur has been approached by football investment trust ENIC. Aston Villa and Leeds United were seen as other likely targets and have held talks with media companies.

Other companies which are not publicly owned, such as Everton and Liverpool, have also been subject to intense bid speculation.

There were two simple reasons for the takeover fever:

  • Many media groups feared that BSkyB would be able to build up a dominant position in football broadcasting - an eventuality they were keen to avoid.

  • Secondly, and more importantly, television and broadcast groups were drawn to football by the transformation of the sport into a worldwide media attraction.

The growing popularity of the game has raised revenues. But the big prize is yet to come. Pay-per-view football is set to sweep Europe in the next few years - and the potential gains are huge. Millions of fans could soon by paying hundreds of millions of pounds to watch their favourite teams.

The clubs are beginning to realise this huge potential. The cost of broadcasting rights has escalated dramatically and money is pouring into the game.

In Continental Europe leading companies already own some of the biggest clubs.

However, the UK Government is concerned that the biggest media groups could gain a strangehold over broadcasting rights - a situation which it believes could damage the game forever.

In other words the biggest clubs would get bigger, and the smaller clubs would wither or die.

Not surprisingly Mark Booth, chief executive of BSkyB, disagrees.

He said: "This ruling sets an unfortunate precedent for other British clubs and companies who may have wanted to work together to improve and invest in the future of football, for the benefit of clubs, players and fans alike. This is a bad ruling for British football clubs who will have to compete in Europe against clubs who are backed by successful media companies."

Nevertheless BSkyB already has rights to broadcast live Premiership games and opponents of the deal had argued the company would have been represented on both sides of the negotiating table when the rights were renegotiated over the next few years.

The shockwaves of the Manchester United decision will be reverberating around the sport for sometime to come.

It now appears that the larger clubs will have to go it alone.

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