London: Premier League clubs could be set for another huge cash windfall if the "realistic prospect" of Al Jazeera challenging rival Sky for the UK television rights comes to pass, according to a senior ESPN executive.
The English Premier League is the world's richest football league and its last three-year television deal, which runs out next season, brought in £3.5 billion ($5.4 billion, 4.1 billion euros), of which £1.4 billion was paid by foreign broadcasters.
In Britain, Sky shows the lion's share of matches to a UK domestic audience, while fellow satellite station ESPN broadcasts a lesser number of live matches and the terrestrial BBC screens highlights.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera, best known for its news coverage of the Middle East, made rival television stations sit up and take notice when it beat Canal Plus to the French Ligue 1 and Champions League rights.
Their victory followed on the heels of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) acquiring the majority shareholding of Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint Germain.
Ross Hair, ESPN's head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, believes Al Jazeera could challenge Sky for the next three-year contract -- a move which if successful would put a major dent in Sky's existing business plan.
"We're expecting another Premier League auction in April or May," Hair told Tuesday's London Evening Standard. "An Al Jazeera bid is a realistic prospect.
"They have done something very interesting in France in buying first division football against the incumbent satellite broadcaster Canal Plus and we've also looked at what they've done in other markets.
"You can draw parallels with the upcoming auction in the UK. Al Jazeera have the ambition to grow further in sport and into other markets."
ESPN, which has its roots in North America, are also set to enter the next auction as they look to maintain their share of the Premier League market -- the station currently shows 23 live matches a season.
Premier League football has been one of the major drivers of Sky subscriptions and ever since its entry into English football in the 1990s it has not faced a rival broadcast network of comparable financial strength.
Qatar has not, historically, been a major football nation but it was catapulted into prominence when awarded the right to stage the 2022 World Cup.