Bidders lining up for 3G football rights

Hutchison 3G managed to corner the rights to show Premiership action over third-generation networks a couple of years ago - now other firms have the same goal

The rights to transmit top English football highlights to third-generation mobile users will be fiercely disputed when they become available next year, according to reports on Wednesday.

Hutchison 3G, the first company to launch a full commercial 3G service in the UK, currently holds the contract with the English Premier League, allowing it to send clips of the latest action to its subscribers.

Hutchison's deal with the English Premier League runs out in the summer of 2004, and it seems likely that the comany will have a fight on its hands if it wants to renew the three-year contract.

An article in The Times  on Wednesday states that satellite broadcaster BSkyB and mobile giant Vodafone -- which owns a UK 3G licence -- have joined Hutchison in placing bids with the Premier League.

Exclusive access to this football action is a key part of Hutchison's strategy for its 3 service. This was illustrated earlier this week when the company offered three months of free access to its football service to any new customer who signs up before the end of September.

Should BSkyB win the rights, it's likely that it would resell them to some or all of the five mobile operators that own 3G licences. That could spur take-up in 3G -- tempting soccer-mad customers of Vodafone, O2, Orange or T-Mobile to upgrade to a 3G service without having to change operators.

Hutchison 3G did not immediately responded to requests for comment.