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SPL games to be live on BBC Alba for first time

SCOTTISh Premier League (SPL) football will be shown live for the first time on the BBC's Gaelic-language channel under a new two-year deal.

The games are to be broadcast live on BBC Alba, which has previously only been able to show delayed match coverage of the top-tier games.

Under the agreement struck with the league, three live matches will be shown during the current season and three more during the 2013-14 season.

Delayed full-match coverage of a further 35 games per season will be broadcast at 5.30pm on Saturdays.

The first live game will be Ross County against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on January 2, with the kick-off at 3.05pm.

Commentary for the games will be in Gaelic.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster said he was delighted with the deal.

He said: "This new partnership will allow us to reach far and wide into new audiences and communities across Scotland.

"The SPL already has two live television deals in place with Sky Sports and ESPN.

"We look forward to growing our relationship with BBC Alba to promote Clydesdale Bank Premier League football, and the Gaelic language, even further over the next two seasons."

Alan Esslemont, head of content for BBC Alba, said: "The Clydesdale Bank Premier League continues to be hugely popular with fans across the country.

"We are delighted to be able to return live Clydesdale Bank Premier League football to free-to-air television across Scotland and the UK for the first time since 2004."

BBC Alba had already agreed a three-year deal with the Scottish Football League to extend its broadcasting rights to the Ramsdens Challenge Cup until 2015.

The agreement, reached in July, extended the partnership that has existed between BBC Alba and the SFL since 2008.

The tournament got under way this year when Brechin played host to newly demoted Rangers, in what was their first match as a Third Division side.

BBC Alba, jointly run by MG Alba and the BBC, was established in 2008 as the country's first dedicated Gaelic-language channel. It became available on Freeview for the first time last year and attracts around 500,000 viewers a week.

However, chairwoman Maggie Cunningham warned in September it risked losing its audience share unless it could find inventive ways of making new and attractive programmes.

The former head of BBC Scotland programmes, who took up her new role in July, said it was unlikely to win extra funds from the BBC or the Scottish Government and that the channel was beginning to feel the effects of "audience fatigue".

She said: "We have great goodwill, we have high audience approval in our core Gaelic speakers, and in Scotland, and we have had a lot of recognition of the quality of MG Alba, but it is going to be very hard to hold that audience over the next four years."

BBC Alba's current schedule features a mix of sport, news, music and documentaries, including an exclusive documentary on aid worker Linda Norgrove, from Lewis, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan and subsequently killed during a botched rescue attempt.

The channel is also broadcasting Scotland women's international football and live coverage of some Glasgow and Edinburgh Pro12 rugby matches.

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