U.K.'s top soccer matches to carry virtual advertising

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LONDON--The Premier League, the U.K.'s elite group of soccer clubs, is negotiating with technology developers to transmit virtual advertising during live TV transmission of its soccer games.

The Premier League hopes to start offering advertisers the service from the 1999 season starting in September. The chosen contractor will be able to superimpose ads on perimeter boards around the soccer pitch featuring brands that are relevant to the crowds watching but not necessarily to TV viewers in many different countries.

According to a spokesman, Commercial Director Stephen Pearson is in talks with IVS, which is owned by ISL, Europe's biggest sports rights marketing company, U.S.-based Princeton Video Image and Symah Vision. The Premier League, which reportedly could earn a potential $10 million a season from virtual ads, has started running tests with some of the technology developers.

The investment in virtual advertising has become imperative as the Premier League games are broadcast in more than 150 countries every year. Instead of audiences in some countries seeing perimeter ads for brands not sold there, the technology will enable a local advertiser to feature a more appropriate campaign.

As part of Mr. Pearson's negotiations, the Premier League will have to consider rules on virtual ads from the U.K. Football Association and FIFA, soccer's international organization. FIFA prohibits the superimposition of ads on the soccer pitch during a match. However, experts believe the rules do not prevent virtual ads to be placed on space among spectators or on the stadium's roofs.

Additionally, the respective broadcasters will need to agree to incorporate the technology within their systems before virtual advertising will be able to take off.

Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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