by Charles Sale

The Premier League has secured its status as world football’s richest competition with an astonishing £3.018billion deal for domestic TV rights for three years.

Forget the financial crisis - BT joins the Premier League party and football lands an incredible £3BILLION
Winners: BT have managed to secure some massive matches

The agreements, which start from the 2013-14 campaign, are a remarkable 70 per cent increase on the current contract.

Long-term partners Sky will show 116 games a season – the maximum allowed for one station – and newcomers BT have gained a 38-game foothold.

The mind-boggling numbers mean the goldrush Premier League is being paid £6.5million for every one of their 154 live TV games per season at a time of austerity when the value of most TV  sports contracts are falling or only holding up.

The big losers are the devastated Walt Disney-owned ESPN, who were desperate to expand their one-package Premier League portfolio but have ended up with nothing.

This is due to surprise entrants BT being prepared to pay £738m over three years for the games that cannot be sold to Sky, who have forked out £2.28bn.

‘It’s down to the excitement of the  competition,’ said Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, who can expect a healthy annual bonus from a grateful Premier League remuneration committee as a reward for his jackpot negotiating skills.

There must now be considerable doubts as to whether ESPN, who regarded Premier League property as crucial to their business plan, will continue with their UK operation once their  current contracts expire.

These include Premiership rugby and the FA Cup, giving the FA more worries about their broadcast partners — ESPN having taken over from the doomed Setanta.

Scudamore was surprised by the size of the offers, boosted by the ultimate drama of Manchester City clinching the title in injury time of the last game of the  season.

‘We couldn’t have gone to market at a better time,’ he admitted.

Sky had been due to go to the market three months earlier but were delayed by the European red tape surrounding the Portsmouth landlady case, involving pub  football screening via a Greek TV decoder.

But it was widely expected that Sky, who have shown the Premier League for the 20 years since its inception, would retain the lionshare of the packages.

Yet Rupert Murdoch’s satellite company have had to pay the whopping £2.28bn — a premium of around 40 per cent — to keep their dominant position as the main broadcaster of Premier League football.

Sky were very concerned that money-no-object Middle East network Al Jazeera would be their major competition, so had to bid big accordingly.

It is still not clear — and the PL cleverly encouraged uncertainty — as to whether Al Jazeera, who have been preoccupied setting up their French football operation, even put in a bid. But Al Jazeera are sure to be at the PL rights table next time around, giving the clubs the expectation of another bonanza.

ESPN are understood to have competed strongly with BT through two rounds of bidding.

And Scudamore’s team were able to extricate every possible penny from what were previously the least attractive match choices by the ‘game changer’ of including a total of 18 first picks in BT’s set of 38 games to be shown on the Saturday 12.45pm slot and midweek and Bank Holidays.

This reformatting of the packages has resulted in the price for those 38 games rising from £2.3m-a-match to £6.5m – an increase of 260 per cent.

BT will be setting up a new football-based channel to drive business to their BT Vision station, which has 700,000 subscribers.

Scudamore said: ‘We welcome BT as a new broadcast partner.

‘They are a substantial British company that is at leading edge of technology. They will deliver new ways in which fans will be able to follow the competition.

‘ESPN are great partners and will continue to be great partners. They will come again in three years time I’m sure.’

However, the American owners might well have given up on the UK market long before then.

ESPN spokesman Paul Melvin said: ‘We made a strong bid that reflected the value of the rights to our business.’