£315m nets ONdigital and ITV League rights

ENGLISH football will receive a total domestic television income of £2.4 billion in the three years from 2001 after ONdigital and ITV agreed a £315 million deal with the Football League yesterday.

After securing the rights to show Premier League highlights on Wednesday, the deal represents the second success of the week for ITV, as well as the emergence of the digital company as a major player in British sports broadcasting.

ONdigital, a joint venture between Carlton and Granada, has won the rights to show 88 live games from the Football League and Worthington Cup from 2001, along with an unspecified number of pay-per-view games.

ITV will show one semi-final and the final of the Worthington Cup and the final play-off match for Premier League status. It will also have the rights to show 15 live regional matches each season.

The BBC was unable to proceed with its interest in the contract because the Football League wanted a pay element to the deal and ONdigital was the only company interested.

The announcement follows Sky, NTL and ITV paying 1.645 billion to show Premiership football over the same period and Sky and the BBC agreeing a 440 million deal to show the FA Cup and England internationals. Further income will be generated from foreign sales.

The Football League deal represents the first major domestic deal for ONdigital and will become a central element in its dedicated sports channel. Stuart Prebble, ONdigital’s chief executive, said his company had broken Sky’s stranglehold over live pay TV football. "We will build a major premium sports channel with live Football League, Worthington Cup and UEFA Champions League football and the Men’s ATP Tennis Masters as a tremendous foundation," he added.

ONdigital said it expected to announce details of the pay-per-view element to the package next week.

Clubs will also be entitled to a share of pay-per-view revenues. NTL paid 328 million earlier this week to show 40 pay-per-view games in the Premier League.

Television deals in Scotland will be awarded next year. SPL chief executive Roger Mitchell said on Thursday he wanted to experiment with up to eight pay-per-view games on a Saturday afternoon in the coming season to gauge the effect on attendances at other matches.

An ONdigital spokesman said yesterday the company would investigate whether to also bid for Scottish rights from 2002.

NTL, which invested 31 million in Rangers this week, said it was also monitoring the situation.

ITV will add the live games to the Saturday and Sunday night Premier League highlight packages for which it paid 183 million on Wednesday.

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has signed a new contract worth 1 million per annum which will tie him to the Anfield club until 2005.

Manchester United will play in a pre-season tournament to celebrate Bayern Munich’s centenary. Turkish side Galatasaray are also taking part.

Middlesbrough have signed Chris Sutton from Chelsea for 6 million. The striker cost Chelsea a then club record 10 million when he joined from Blackburn Rovers a year ago.