Sky to show 115 live games from 2010

LONDON - Britain's dominant pay-TV firm BSkyB reasserted its grip on televised top-flight sport on Friday, securing the right to show the vast majority of English football's live Premier League matches from 2010.

In a three-year deal that gives a huge boost to top-flight clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, the league said the total value of the deal was 1.78 billion pounds ($2.61 billion) or 5 percent more than it received last time.

BSkyB, which has drawn over 9 million customers with its offer of major sports coverage and movies, will pay a total of 1.62 billion pounds as it seeks to lure subscribers who are spending more time at home during the economic downturn.

BSkyB will show 115 matches, up from its current contract of 92 and including the top-tier matches on a Sunday afternoon between the top clubs. Irish-based Setanta will show the remaining 23 matches.

Setanta, which is privately owned by its management team and institutional investors, currently holds the rights to show 46 matches up until 2010, and the loss of 23 to Sky will be a big blow.

Setanta also has the rights for English international and FA Cup matches, Scottish football, golf and boxing, but the Premier League has been its top attraction.

"The continued investment in playing talent and facilities made by the clubs is largely down to the revenue generated through the sale of our broadcast rights," Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said.

"The live UK rights are the largest contribution to the revenues we distribute centrally to the clubs and this deal gives them the stability to plan and invest in the most important aspect of our business -- the football. Everything else flows from that."

Some commentators had suggested the price of the deal could fall in the economic climate, adding pressure on the clubs which are starting to see some fans stay away from fixtures.

But the price continued to rise. The first Premier League television deal in 1992 was worth 191 million pounds over five years for 60 matches.

Walt Disney Co's TV network ESPN, which also lost out on football rights in Germany last year, said it took part in the auction and was disappointed to miss out.

Setanta said it was happy with the result and said its current Premier League matches had helped attract new customers.

BSkyB, which has Rupert Murdoch's son James as its non-executive chairman, also said it was delighted and that the ruling gave it confidence for the future. It was not allowed to show all the matches under European Commission competition rules.

The league said the decision to award more matches to BSkyB than Setanta for the new contract did not reflect on Setanta's current performance but was simply down to the auction process.