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Report: Murdoch to Buy Soccer Team for $1 Billion

September 09, 1998| From Staff and Wire Reports

The managing board of Manchester United, a premier soccer team in England, has agreed to sell the club to Rupert Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting for a record $1 billion, the Times of London reported Tuesday.

The newspaper, also owned by Murdoch, said the deal will be announced today. The price would be a record for a sports team.

Fox Sports, a division of Murdoch's News Corp., purchased the Dodgers from Peter O'Malley in March for about $311 million.

The newspaper said an agreement was reached when the price offered rose from $3.70 per share to $3.85, raising the deal's value by $80 million.

Manchester United's chief executive, Martin Edwards, owns 14% of the club and stands to earn $135 million from the BSkyB acquisition.

Fans, soccer officials and government ministers have criticized the proposed deal since word broke Sunday.

Joe Ashton, chairman of the government's nonpartisan Football Committee, said all sides of politics should unite to stop the deal.

"We're not just concerned, we're trying to stop it. That includes the Conservatives and Liberals in our group as well," Ashton, a member of Tony Blair's Labor Government, said.

"This isn't in the public interest," he told BBC radio. "Murdoch wants to sit on one side of the table offering a price for televised games then move round and sit on the other side for Manchester United, accepting or rejecting it.

"That can't be fair. That can't be a fair trading practice. That's why we want this to go to the [Office of Fair Trading--a regulatory body]," he said.

David Mellor, chairman of the government's Football Task Force chairman and a former British Sports Minister, said Manchester United directors should draw back from committing "an act of cardinal folly."

Hockey

Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers reached a handshake agreement on a one-year contract extension arrangement that could keep the center with the team through the 1999-2000 season.

Carl Lindros, the player's father and agent, said he had reached terms with Flyer team chairman Ed Snider. The Flyers have the option at the end of the 1998-99 season and will pay Lindros about the same salary--$8.5 million plus bonuses--that he was to receive under the Flyers' five-year contract proposal. If the Flyers pick up the option, Lindros would sign the extension to play the 1999-2000 season in Philadelphia.

Nothing was put into writing, according to Gordon Kirke, the Lindros' legal advisor, because the NHL doesn't permit teams to do so.

"Quite frankly, we're thrilled with Eric's pledge and attitude," Snider said. "We don't have a written contract, but we have a unilateral promise on the part of Eric. . . . We'll have to sit down and hope we can get it signed next year. And we have a five-year contract on the table. Maybe things will go well enough that (at the end of the year) everybody's happy and we can get it signed."

One of the prime reasons for reaching the agreement was to eliminate the possibility of Lindros playing out the final year of his current contract and becoming a Group II restricted free agent next July 1.

Restricted free-agent goaltender Eric Fichaud, acquired by Edmonton in a trade from the New York Islanders on June 18, signed a two-year contract with the Oilers. Terms were not disclosed. The Oilers, after deciding not to meet No. 1 goalie Curtis Joseph's contract demands as a free agent, obtained Fichaud last June 18 from the New York Islanders for forward Mike Watt.

Ottawa Senator defenseman Janne Laukkanen is expected to be sidelined for three months after undergoing surgery to repair an abdominal muscle tear.

Pro Basketball

Simon Gourdine, former chief of the NBA players' union, testified for the owners in a New York hearing to determine if players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the current lockout.

Arbitrator John Feerick will hear closing arguments today and then have 30 days to rule after briefs are filed by Sept. 15. His decision could have a bearing on whether the two sides renew contract talks.

Gourdine and deputy commissioner Russ Granik were the only ones to speak at the hearing on behalf of the league. Gourdine more than two years ago was fired as the union's director and replaced by Billy Hunter following a dispute among players. Before that was the No. 2 man in the league behind commissioner Larry O'Brien.

The NBA is contesting the union's claim that more than 220 players must be paid because their individual contracts say nothing about a lockout stopping payments. About $800 million of guaranteed salary is involved.

Dick Vitale, who over the last two decades has become one of sports' most popular television analysts, on was chosen by the Basketball Hall of Fame to receive the Curt Gowdy electronic media award. Among the previous Gowdy Award winners have been Marty Glickman, Chick Hearn, Johnny Most, Cawood Ledford, Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Marv Albert.

Auto Racing

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