BSkyB shells out $1.85 bil for soccer rights

Three-year deal covers top British live matches

LONDON -- Bucking fears of deflating sports rights values, Premier League soccer underlined its value to broadcasters Wednesday, after satcaster BSkyB paid 1.3 billion pounds ($1.85 billion) for the live rights to the bulk of top league British soccer matches in the U.K. for the next three years.

Sky is thought to have matched the amount it paid last time and has won four of the six live rights packages on offer, giving it rights to 92 matches per season each year from 2010-13.

A remaining two packages -- totaling 46 matches per season over the three-year period -- are still up for auction, with Sky, ESPN and pay TV group Setanta Sports thought to be in the bidding.

But under a 2005 ruling from the European Commission, no single broadcaster can buy up more than five of the six packages available.

Last year Setanta paid 392 million pounds for both packages.

BSkyB last week announced that it was growing its subscriber base despite the recession, announcing a total of 9.4 million customers, has made Premier League soccer a core element of its program offering since launching 20 years ago.

Last week the BBC announced that it would pay 175 million pounds for a television and on-demand highlights package.

Overseas, new-media and mobile rights will be announced "in due course" the Premier League said. Overseas broadcast rights are thought to have totaled 625 million pounds last time.