(the F.A.’s Richard Scudamore, reacting to Warren Sapp’s audition tape)

The Independent’s Nick Harris
reports England’s top flight domestic soccer league — guarding against the possibility of Sky and/or Setanta making conservative rights offers in the future — will launch their own television channel in 2010.  Still probably too soon for Ron Atkinson to return to presenting, however.

Market evidence suggests there are now more than five million potential subscribers willing to pay upwards of £200 each per year for Premier League football. That equates to £16.50 per month, which is cheaper than most fans pay now, and might give the League a crude “baseline” income of £1bn. That compares well to the £566m earned currently each year from deals with Sky and Setanta. The major hurdle has always been that starting a channel from scratch would be costly and risky, with no sales or income absolutely guaranteed. However, the League is increasingly involved in broadcasting its international rights, producing previews, magazine shows, highlights and live feeds for foreign markets through Premier League Productions, a joint venture with TWI, a leading sports marketing firm.

If a sharp and sudden decline in bidding prices happens, threatening the financial dominance of the Premiership’s 20 clubs, PLTV will only become more attractive. Even after bidding has started early in the new year, the League is under no obligation to accept any specific offer, no matter how high. If the deals on the table are not lucrative enough, the League will have more than a year to get PLTV up and running

“PLTV would be a big step and it is not the first-choice option,” said one source. “But it is absolutely feasible, if not perfect. If that is the route the League and its clubs need to take to secure these important revenues going forward, it will happen. You could say it’s been on the shelf for a while, and it’s getting a dusting down.”

On Monday the League sent out its “Invitation to Tender” documents for 2010-13 inclusive. It is expected that six packages of live domestic rights will be offered, as last time, with a pack of 23 of the best games on Sunday afternoons at 4pm the pick of the bunch. Sky won the rights to four of six packages last time, or 92 games per season for three years, paying £1.314bn. Setanta won two packages, or 46 games per season, paying £392m.

One broadcaster said: “PLTV is a possibility, but I’m sure the clubs would rather have their money guaranteed and the product in the hands of established channels as long as they’re not facing a massive reduction in income.”