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03/04/2002

Football chiefs ponder £130m pay-off from ITV Digital

The Football League has sounded a more conciliatory note in its battle to hold ITV Digital to £178 million it still owes from a £315 million contract to televise lower league football.
It is understood that league bosses will consider a £40 million one-off payment in addition to the August instalment of £89.25 million for year two of the three-year broadcast contract. That would allow ITV Digital out of its current contract with the Football League for £130 million – somewhat more than the £50 million Carlton and Granada had previously offered.
League chief executive David Burns opened the door for further negotiation on the deal and suggested that the league may be prepared to wave the remaining final year payments in return for the full TV broadcast rights.
"We are quite clear that we believe we should receive every penny that is owed to us. However, if they want to discuss the deal further then we will talk. But we are not prepared to renegotiate on the price of the rights for no good reason. They must either pay the full amount - or give the rights back," Mr Burns said.
He went on to say that ITV Digital had treated the Football League with "disdain" as payments were still being paid for Premier League and Champions League football.
The Football League are still threatening a £500 million law suit against Carlton and Granada if both sides cannot find a resolution to the financial impasse.
One option for the administrators may come in the form of Centrica, which is reportedly considering a bail-out of stricken broadcast company. Centrica has a diverse portfolio – owning the AA, British Gas, the Goldfish credit card and Australian telecoms firm One.Tel.
Rupert Murdoch, owner of ITV Digital's main rival BSkyB, described Carlton and Granada's conduct over the contract dispute as "immoral".
Mr Murdoch said: "What Carlton and Granada are trying to do is just immoral. It is not as though the owners don't have the money; these are two very big companies."
ITV Digital, www.itv-digital.com
(GMcG)
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