A feast of football - preview of the 2001/2 season

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Related tags: Itv digital, Premier league, Sky sports

This football season looks set to be a winner for publicans, with more live matches than ever being shown on TV. Phil Mellows sees what's on...

This football season looks set to be a winner for publicans, with more live matches than ever being shown on TV. Phil Mellows sees what's on offer.

This will surely be the needle match of the football season. No quarter will be given in the battle for supremacy. As Bill Shankly said, it isn't a matter of life and death - it's much more important than that.

But this isn't Tottenham versus Arsenal, Liverpool versus Everton nor Newcastle versus Sunderland. The contenders are Sky Sport and ITV Digital.

With ITV Digital claiming its commercial package to be the first serious challenge to Sky's domination of satellite football for a decade, the increased competition should, hopefully, mean a better service and better prices for licensees.

But the likelihood is that the two rivals will eventually find themselves in quite different markets.

Sky has the big-name clashes from the Premiership, which, now that Carling has pulled out, is sponsored by Barclaycard, with 66 matches being screened live through the season.

ITV Digital's 40 Premiership games are also available on Sky for the price of what the company calls a Premiership Plus Season Ticket, and you also get live FA Cup ties, 30 Scottish Premier League games, Tennents Scottish Cup coverage and the home countries' World Cup qualifiers, including Germany versus England and Scotland versus Croatia on September 1.

Not quite as spectacular, but certainly of local interest, following a new deal with the Nationwide Conference League, Sky is also televising up to 10 non-league matches live, kicking off with Hereford United against Barnet on the first day of the season.

These games will be broadcast at midday on Saturday between the morning entertainment show Soccer AM and the results and round-up service Gillette Soccer Saturday.

It all adds up to more than 250 live matches, enough to keep any pub's sports calendar busy.

Where ITV Digital - formerly known as ONdigital - could score, however, is in sewing up coverage of the Nationwide Football League.

The theory is that, at 14 million supporters, the audience for Nationwide games adds up to rather more than the followers of the glamour boys.

ITV Digital will be screening 130 of them through the season with Champions League matches, Worthington Cup ties and the 40 Premiership contests thrown into a package that undercuts the Sky subscription fees - by up to 50 per cent for bigger pubs.

While ITV Digital has got a long way to go to catch up with Sky, according to spokesman Andrew Marre, pubs are signing up to the new service at the rate of more than 400 a week and groups on board include Six Continents Retail (formerly Bass), Scottish & Newcastle Retail, Punch Retail, Laurel Pub Company (formerly Whitbread) and Fuller's.

In reality, the offerings are likely to appeal to different kinds of pub. While city centre and sports bars will want to keep up a maximum Premiership coverage and stick with Sky, the ITV Digital package offers community pubs in smaller towns and suburbs the opportunity to build a following around the local Nationwide team.

The wider sports coverage offered by satellite channels may also play a part in your decision and sports themed bars in particular will want to make sure they have access to as much action as possible.

Sky, for instance, has announced live rights on the coming season's England rugby union internationals starting on November 10 and will be covering the whole of the Ryder Cup golf from the Belfry at the end of September, among 100 other sports.

For many pubs, however, it is the football that their customers expect and football that has the biggest potential of all sports to develop the loyalty of customers across the age groups and across the sexes.

Whichever service you choose, the way you market and build on the coverage is crucial to making pay-TV pay its way for you.

Carling's exit from the Premiership sponsorship may make this slightly more difficult for pubs, but there is still plenty that can be done, either using off-the-shelf promotions that can encourage customers to come early and stay late on match days, and even use the pub when there's no football on, or creating an atmosphere that makes your bar the place that fans want to be.

More football:

For a look back at last season and predictions for who will come out on top in the coming season, along with a look at the Scottish Premier League's early kick-off: The 2001/2 football season

For a look at fantasy football and how it can help attract customers, as well as a review of the fantasy football packages on offer:Fantasy Football

For the times and dates of live TV fixtures from the Premiership for the first three months of the season:TV fixtures for the 2001/2 football season

For a report on the advertising opportunities that come with the football season and the pros and cons of football sponsorship:The beautiful game - football sponsorship

Related topics: Sport

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