Al Jazeera interest is good news for Premier League

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Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has given the clearest indication yet that Sky's monopoly of television coverage may be at risk when the next round of bidding for rights begins.

Sky have supported the Premier League since its conception 20 years ago, and currently broadcast 115 live matches over a 12 month period, having paid close to £1billion to secure five of six 'packages' between 2010 and 2013.

ESPN are the junior partner, as it were, to Sky and spent around £160 million for the other package in order to screen 23 Premier League matches - a contract which expires next May.

When the rights are put out to tender next year, it is expected that Al Jazeera - which is owned by the Qatari royal family - will enter into the bidding process, and their sizeable financial clout will certainly worry ESPN and, perhaps, even threaten Sky's supremacy.

Amid suggestions that Al Jazeera will attempt to secure a number of packages between 2013 and 2016, Scudamore says that, regardless of any loyalty felt towards Sky, the Premier League are required to bow to the highest bidder.

"Our current arrangements - and I see no reason why our future arrangements won't have to be - are regulated, and are regulated heavily," Scudamore said, according to PA Sport.

"Our packages are put out into the open market and we have to have an open tender for those packages. We have to sell to the highest compliant bidder."

He added: "Whilst, of course, we have a huge regard and respect and Sky's made a fantastic impact on our business, ultimately whatever umbilical cord there might be as an ongoing, working, commercial relationship, that gets severed once that tender gets issued."

Al Jazeera have already demonstrated their willingness to upset domestic balance by outbidding French broadcaster Canal Plus for the rights to show Ligue 1 games from next season.

It was previously unthinkable that Sky's domination of the UK market would be challenged, but with Middle East investment in football increasing, 2013 will be a pivotal year for the corporation.

With Rupert Murdoch's media empire enduring its most testing time since it was created over 30 years ago, things could become even worse should Al Jazeera make an attempt to swipe his crown jewel.

The relationship between Sky and the Premier League has come under scrutiny and, as the former's reputation continues to take a battering, Al Jazeera's interest could come at the perfect time for the latter.

Sky's power will also be affected by last year's European Court of Justice ruling that broadcasters could not be given 'territorial exclusivity on a member state basis', which will see the Premier League deliberate further as to whether or not they should sell rights on a pan-European basis.

Doing so would provide more income and protection for the Premier League, and provides an ideal opportunity to curtail an over reliance on the financial backing of Sky.

There will, of course, be suggestions that the Premier League will become too dependant on the potential riches of Al Jazeera, but working on a pan-European basis could eventually spread into wider investment.

Such are the regulations, the Premier League will not have a say when money begins to talk next year, but Al Jazeera ousting Sky after two decades of rule would prove to be supremely beneficial for Scudamore and Co.

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