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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Lockout fear over football rights
By Bill Wilson

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo tussles with Arsenal's Ashley Cole
The two sides cannot agree about use of digital images
Football fans are facing the prospect of a blackout in coverage of their teams after a row between national papers and football authorities.

The newspapers have been renegotiating a deal with the FA Premier League and Football League over access to matches.

The Newspaper Publishers' Association claims DataCo, for the leagues, wants a delay before photos go out on digital outlets, like newspaper websites.

Without a deal, papers fear they may be barred from all 92 grounds by Monday.

As well as internet sites, there are other possible areas of contention, including potential mobile phone markets, and newspaper fantasy football competitions.

If the dispute is not resolved by midnight on Sunday, the national newspapers say their reporters and photographers could be denied access to matches, starting with Manchester City's game against Norwich City.

We are hopeful of reaching an agreement within the time frame between now and Sunday
Dan Johnson, spokesman for the Premier League

"It is certainly a possibility," Steve Oram, director of the Newspaper Publishers' Association(NPA), said.

"I have asked the football authorities what exactly the situation will be, in relation to photographers and reporters attending matches, and they have not got back to me."

He said "restrictions" had been increased on the national titles every time they negotiated with the authorities.

"There have been restrictions on how photographs taken at matches could be used, and when reporters could publish," said Mr Oram.

The NPA also wants the existing "time windows" - the only designated times when papers can file match reports on their internet sites while a game is in progress - lifted.

"In a digital age we think it is ridiculous we can only publish match updates during certain time-frames," said a spokesman.

'Balance needed'

The football leagues are believed to be unhappy at the increasing use of images on the internet.

There is also a worry papers might set up picture messaging of football action to mobile phones, an area where they do not currently have an agreement with the football authorities.

"If they (newspapers) want to move their existing licensing agreement, covering core newspaper coverage, into other areas, it seems existing terms will have to change," said an industry insider.

However the NPA is refusing to accept a demand that digital publishing of match photographs be subject to a two hour delay.

We... have now reviewed the generous policy we have pursued thus far and can see no reason why we should use the sponsors' names
Chris Elliott, Guardian managing editor

It is also unhappy at being asked for between 5% to 7% of revenues generated by national papers' fantasy football competitions.

The NPA says it takes national coverage of the game to 40 million readers every day, and that the publicity it generates is worth 30m a year to football in the UK.

"It is time for common sense - we agree there should be a balance, but this is not reflected by football's stance in the negotiations," said Mr Oram.

Last year 3UK and Vodafone UK announced they had jointly secured the FA Premier League mobile rights in a multi-million pound deal over three seasons, starting from 2004/05.

It offers video match highlights, previews, archive footage and Premier round-ups as well as other services including audio bulletins, "near-live" picture messages and match scores.

A spokesman for 3 UK said that someone with a 20 monthly package of 100 voice minutes and 100 text minutes, would, at present, for an extra 5 a month, be able to access a wide range of video clips, including the Premier League package.

"Users can also download clips for a charge of anything from 25p to 50p a time," they said.

Sponsors omitted

The Premier League and Football League have both said they remain open to negotiations, and are playing down any national press lockout at their games.

"We have written to all national newspaper publishers to appraise them of our position," Dan Johnson, spokesman for the Premier League, told BBC Sport.

"We are hopeful of reaching an agreement within the time frame between now and Sunday."

However the dispute has now spilled over into the way national papers print results and league tables, with some opting to leave off the name of the Premier League's sponsor Barclays Bank, and the Football League's, Coca-Cola.

The Guardian has criticised what it says is DataCo's "peremptory introduction of brand new demands at the 11th hour".

Managing editor Chris Elliott said: "We can't speak for others, but have now reviewed the generous policy we have pursued thus far and can see no reason why we should use the sponsors' names. From Tuesday we shall stop."




SEE ALSO
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Football clubs split TV rights
24 Jul 03  |  Business


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