Belfast Telegraph

Premier League gets Friday feeling

Premier League matches will be screened live on Friday nights from the start of the 2016-17 season, it can be revealed.

Up to 10 games will be shown live on Friday evenings under the terms of the new broadcasting rights agreement.

The Premier League has issued invitations to tender (ITT) for the broadcast rights for three seasons starting in August 2016 with 168 live matches available in total - 14 more than are currently shown and which means that 44 per cent of all Premier League games will be available live. The auction is expected to herald another bumper pay-day for top-flight clubs.

There will be seven packages available, as under the current system, but it is understood the Monday night package will include up to 10 games to be played on Friday night.

No broadcaster will be able to show more than five packages or 126 matches in total, guaranteeing at least two packages and 42 games to a second broadcaster.

The announcement will fire the starting gun on the contest to secure the live rights, with current rights holders BSkyB and BT Sport set to bid again.

One unknown factor is whether Qatar-based beIN Sports enters the bidding war - but even if it does not the stakes are likely to be raised even higher than the current £3.018billion and ensure another record domestic rights deal for the Premier League clubs.

The ITT will also include bids for a free-to-air highlights package, and ITV is expected to challenge the BBC which has held the rights since 2004.

The bidding process for the highlights and the live rights is expected to be completed within the next four months with a decision announced in March.

The ITT also comes despite the media regulator Ofcom opening an investigation into how the Premier League sells its broadcast rights, following a complaint by Virgin Media.

League chiefs have taken the decision not to delay the ITT - not least because the Ofcom investigation could take up to two years. Increasing the number of games made available live however could be seen as a move towards trying to satisfy Ofcom.

The Premier League has insisted however that the Saturday 3pm kick-off time remains sacrosanct, and that matches played at that time will not be shown live.

It said in a statement announcing the details of the ITT: "This creates an attractive offering for broadcasters and fans; whilst allowing the continued protection of the Saturday 3pm 'closed period' - the purpose of which is to encourage attendances and participation at all levels of the sport at the traditional time at which English football takes place across the country."

After the sale of the live rights is completed, a separate sales process will take place for two other packages - a "near-live" package of 212 matches for on-demand exploitation - and an internet-based clips package for all matches.

Once the domestic rights sale is completed, league chiefs will then turn their attention to selling the overseas broadcast rights, which for the current three-year package brought in another £2.5billion.

Friday night games may coincide with live rugby league and rugby union matches, which are commonly played on that day.

Virgin Media said the changes to the auction did not address its complaint.

Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media's chief corporate affairs officer, said: "This slightly restructured auction simply highlights how few of the Premier League's games will be available on live TV. It doesn't change the fact that UK fans will continue to pay the most for the least amount of football in Europe."

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