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Sky Sports pulled from pubs as lobbyists hit Westminster

LONDON - A storm in a beer glass is brewing in Westminster over BSkyB's plans to hike up the price it charges pubs and bars for access to Sky Sports by more than 20%, or seven times the rate of inflation.

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Pub landlords have lobbied Parliament to protest against the increase, as it emerged that brewers have already stopped showing Sky Sports channels in some pubs.

Brewers fear that more pubs and clubs will be priced out of the market, as larger establishments now find themselves paying more than £1,600 a month for the privilege of screening live sport.

Sky has exclusive rights to so many games that pub screenings are the only place many fans can watch them. Pubs with the screens receive a welcome boost of trade when top matches are shown.

This includes many England games, such as the crucial Euro 2004 qualifer against Turkey in Istanbul next month. In this instance, the government has asked Sky to share the match with a terrestrial broadcaster in an attempt to prevent English fans travelling to the game, but Sky has refused to share the rights to the match.

A protest yesterday about the pub subscription prices was organised by senior Labour backbencher Martyn Jones MP, the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group and the UK & Ireland Licensed Trade Association. It comes on the back of an early day motion, tabled by Jones in July, which highlighted the issue in the Commons and called on the Office of Fair Trading to re-open its investigation into BSkyB's pricing structure for licensed premises.

The British Beer and Pub Association and the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association have lent their support to the campaign, asking the OFT to review BSkyB's pricing policy.

Rob Hayward, chief executive of the BBPA, told Brand Republic: "We would like the Office of Fair Trading to intervene and call on Sky to justify the increases, which are seven times the rate of inflation."

He added that two Midlands brewers, Wolverhampton & Dudley and Mitchell's & Butler's, have cancelled subscriptions to Sky Sports in some of their pubs in response to price rises from the satellite broadcaster.

BSkyB, however, has said it has no intention of bowing to the pressure from publicans.

A spokesman for BSkyB said: "We believe our service reflects good value for money. Pricing reflects the significant commercial benefits that pubs gain from showing live sport and the investment that we make in top rights."

He pointed out that Sky Sports will be screening more than 400 live matches this season, including all eight Uefa matches, which took place last night, a first for the channel. He also stressed that domestic subscribers would not be affected.

The price rises for licensed-premises subscribers were announced in mid-July and have been in effect since September 1. At the time, Jones, MP for Clwyd South, described them as "pie-in-the-sky".

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