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ITV Sports Channel 2001-2002 Launch
By: Rob Sedgwick
A new pay TV sports channel that will offer the very best in European club football and revolutionise domestic coverage for millions of fans will air Nationwide league football next season starting in August 2001.
The new ITV Sport Channel not only represents the first ever sports offering to break the Sky stranglehold on how Britons watch premium sport, it has the strength, reputation and popularity of the country's most respected sports broadcaster, ITV Sport, firmly behind it.
Launching in August, the premium channel will be available through ONdigital which is to be renamed ITV Digital.
A top quality line-up including more than 150 live football matches each season will make up what is a major development in televised sport. There will be unrivalled live coverage from the world's most prestigious club competition - the UEFA Champions League, ground-breaking coverage of the Nationwide League and the excitement of The Worthington Cup.
The UEFA Champions League has become the pinnacle of competitive football in Europe and will provide the cornerstone of the new channel with unrivalled coverage of live matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the competition's 17-week format.
This season's competition has provided some spectacular moments and big-time football occasions with Leeds United still on course to emulate Manchester United's winning performance in 1999. Live action from the UEFA Champions League will remain on free-to-air ITV throughout the 17 Wednesdays of the competition and the network will continue to provide highlights action on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The new channel will combine live football with feature-led programming to give viewers the complete UEFA Champions League picture. Alongside the UEFA Champions League coverage, the ITV Sport Channel will also launch the most comprehensive commitment to the Nationwide League yet seen on British television. With a total of 80 live matches to be screened on Thursdays and Sundays, the new channel will raise the profile and extend the experience enjoyed by millions of followers of English football's original league competition.
With a diet of live matches, extensive highlights, intelligent and informed analysis, club and player profiles and other innovative feature programming, the ITV Sport Channel will provide the depth and quality of coverage that the Nationwide League has not enjoyed before.
Among the comprehensive package of programming being developed is a Saturday evening highlights showcase dedicated to the Nationwide League's First Division. It will enable fans to have the chance to see all the goals, extended highlights and extensive analysis from that afternoon's games.
The channel will also show separate in-depth highlights shows for the Second and Third Divisions.
A total of 15 major Worthington Cup ties will also be shown live. It is midweek cup football played to a finish - under floodlights - and down the years has provided some great moments and matches. It guarantees European football for its winner.
Coverage of the Nationwide League and Worthington Cup will also be enjoyed by ITV's free-to-air viewers at network and regional level. Although the new channel will major on football from its birth, it also has plans to embrace some other popular domestic and global sport. World championship boxing, ATP Masters Tennis, and Champions Cup snooker are part of the debut line-up.
The channel will have also at its disposal the best presentation, reporting, production and technical team in British sports television. Already providing top quality coverage on ITV, their collective talent will provide a sense of authority, style, flair and excitement for the channel.
Brian Barwick, ITV's Controller of Sport since 1998, will take editorial control of the new channel. He said: ''This is a fantastic development for ITV. The twin strike force of ITV's existing top class terrestrial sports coverage and a new dedicated premium channel is a winning combination."
"The channel will be 'football rich' with live football at its very core. The UEFA Champions League provides fantastic football occasions with the best players in the world on view. Nearer to home we have in-depth coverage of the Nationwide League. Combined, they will get to the heart and soul of the game. "We are to enter a unique integration of free-to-air and premium sports television which will allow us to play to our maximum strengths and the viewer will be the winner."
"With the launch of the premium channel in August and ITV's Premiership coverage due to start in the same month, things have never been as exciting or as challenging for us here at ITV Sport."
Nick Atkins, ONdigital's Director of Programmes, who will have day-to-day control over the channel said: "As well as superb coverage of the Champions League, this channel will bring the kind of intelligent, entertaining and informative programming that fans of Nationwide League clubs deserve. It is set usher in a new era for the Football League fan.
"This is the first premium sports channel to enter the televison sport arena in a decade and it will make a huge impact."
Stuart Prebble, Chief Executive of ITV said: "Over the last four years ITV Sport has become the most powerful, popular and compelling sports broadcaster in the UK. From the Champions League to Formula 1 and from next season Premiership football, the line-up is formidable.
"And now the ITV Sport Channel joins the team adding and revolutionising the Nationwide League, bringing more from Europe's finest clubs as well as the Worthington Cup and other top drawer sport.
"This new channel could not have a better pedigree. Its scheduling, quality and promotional strength will fit hand in glove with what many millions of sports fans already enjoy and expect from ITV."
Details of how to subscribe to the ITV Sports Channel can be found at www.ondigital.co.uk
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