Radio First PLC (‘Radio First’), the emerging digital audio company, has entered into a five-year agreement with British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC (‘BSkyB’), to broadcast, regionally, Radio First’s network of football club-related digital radio stations on Sky digital.

In addition, Radio First will issue warrants to BSkyB to subscribe for up to 18% of the company’s enlarged share capital, from time to time, exercisable at par at any time for a period of five years. There is no obligation on BSkyB to provide any funding.

Radio First has already agreed four 50:50 joint ventures with leading English Premier League clubs in order to own and operate commercial, regional digital radio stations. The company intends to complete similar deals with other British clubs. The joint ventures are for a minimum of 12 years.

The service will include up to eight football club-related channels initially distributed regionally to BSkyB’s growing digital subscriber base, which currently stands at 4.7 million households. The first clubs featured will be Aston Villa, Chelsea, Derby County and Southampton.

Radio First plans to launch its first radio station on Sky digital to coincide with the start of the next football season, with a further three stations being launched as that season progresses. Encryption technology ensures that each station is targeted precisely to its specific region, rather than BSkyB’s total subscriber base.

The stations will broadcast to the relevant region closest to the clubs a popular mix of ‘Hot Music, Hot Football’, including exclusive digital audio commentaries. The stations will broadcast 24/7 and will be based at the football clubs’ stadia.

In addition to the distribution agreement, Radio First and BSkyB will undertake joint cross-marketing and promotional initiatives aimed at both listeners and viewers. The stations will also carry Sky News Radio’s news and sports bulletins, and the agreement allows for the sharing of other editorial material.

Last week, Radio First completed a successful placing of 4,550,000 ordinary shares with institutional and other investors to raise £3.64 million at a price of 80p per share conditional upon the signing of the agreement announced with BSkyB. That condition now being met the placing will complete and dealings in the new shares are expected to commence 12 March 2001.

Keith Harris, Chairman of Radio First, commented:
‘Radio First is a dynamic digital radio company. It has found a way to give extremely well known brands, such as top football clubs, a new way of both benefiting from their media rights, whilst exploiting all the opportunities that ownership of a mainstream entertainment radio station offers. We’re looking forward to working with imaginative, professional football club managements in order to produce some special, successful stations.’

Adding to this, John Aumonier, CEO of Radio First said:
‘This is an important step for Radio First. It not only secures an immediate and fast growing audience for our Fan Radio Network, it gives us a partnership with BSkyB which enables us to broadcast our exciting new digital services via the UK’s largest digital delivery platform. We are now focussed on signing up more leading clubs, both nationally and internationally, and building studio in stadia around the country.’

BSkyB’s Chief Operating Officer, Richard Freudenstein, said:
‘This is a great bonus for Sky digital subscribers and football fans alike. Today’s announcement also presents significant advertising and sponsorship opportunities. Our conditional access technology is capable of restricting broadcasts to specific groups of viewers and so allows for highly-targeted messages.’

Ken Bates, Chairman of Chelsea Football Club, said:
‘Chelsea was the first club to sign a joint venture agreement with Radio First because we believe in the concept that our fans want a station dedicated to club. We think that the station will also help grow our fan base in the South-East. Radio First’s agreement with BSkyB ties in with our own partnership with BSkyB. We are confident that this is another positive step in the development of our joint media activities.’

Rupert Lowe, Chairman of Southampton Football Club, commented: ‘Our new station is due to start broadcasting at the same time as we get into our new stadium. We believe we’re one of the best-known brands in the South of England and we think we have found an effective, innovative way of exploiting our brand. We’re confident that, with Radio First, we can produce a station that becomes important and entertaining in the lives of thousands of people in the South.’

Mark Ansell, Finance Director of Aston Villa Football Club, said: ‘I am pleased BSkyB has confirmed its belief in the Fan Radio Network. This arrangement underpins the future of Radio First and gives our fans another source of radio coverage about the club, without having to incur the additional cost of a digital radio.’

Keith Loring, Chief Executive of Derby County Football Club, commented: ‘The agreement between BSkyB and Radio First will provide brilliant initial carriage for Derby County’s digital radio station. Rams fans in the East Midlands will be able to keep in touch with what’s happening at the club at any time of the day or night and that’s an innovation which I welcome.’

For further information, please contact:

Radio First PLC
Rory McLeod or John Aumonier
Tel: +44 (0)1273 384 260

Buchanan Communications
Mark Edwards
Tel: +44 (0)20 7466 5000

Julian Eccles or Andrew Sholl
Tel: +44 (0)20 7705 3000
Radio First plc