Just over half of the top-flight fixtures still to be played will be televised by the two broadcasters. They paid a total of £421million to show them.
But some or even all of the remaining matches could be shown for free on either channel.
With all matches having to be played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus crisis, that would allow ticket-holders to still get to see their teams.
Last night a TV executive close to talks between the Government, Prem chiefs and broadcasters said: “Sky and BT are not going to give up their rights to games for free.
“They are businesses after all — and that would be madness.
“But other games that were not planned for the TV are now likely to be shown.”
RETURN WILL NEED TO SEE PLUNGING DEATH RATES
SE revealed yesterday how ministers were looking at ways of allowing top sports to return within weeks to give bored Brits a much-needed lift.
Strict criteria would have to be met — including the country seeing plunging death and infection rates, while the sports ensured all those involved remained safe.
The plans, dubbed Project Restart, would see fixtures such as Manchester City v Liverpool — which was due to be shown on Sky on April 5 — being screened on a subscription channel.
But other clashes such as Crystal Palace v Burnley — which was not due to be televised — could now be screened free.
Such games are likely to be filmed by Sky and BT crews and shown on their free-to-air channels, online and via apps.
Sky has two free channels on Freeview — Pick and Challenge — and both Sky and BT have popular apps that work on smart TVs, tablets and phones. Any restart could be a month away or more, since football bosses have to work out how to stage the games and players will need at least two weeks of training.
But recovering PM Boris Johnson is said to see sport’s return as critical to boosting morale.
A decision could be announced as early as May 7 — the date of the Government’s next lockdown review.
Officials are also keeping a close eye on Germany, where a provisional return date for its Bundesliga has been set for May 9.
League bosses there have drawn up plans for games to take place with a maximum of 322 people present in grounds. Players will have to be tested before games start here, with fewer grounds used so they can be disinfected and skeleton TV crews filming the action.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the game should not start without all fans having the chance to watch.
He said: “I have said to the Premier League it wouldn’t send the best signal if they were one of the first major sports to resume behind closed doors and the public at large couldn’t have access to it.”
Rights holders Sky and BT have resisted calls to air all games for free. Bosses fear they would be deluged with complaints and cancellations as existing customers would see subscriptions as worthless.
Sky has rights to 39 of the remaining televised games, including Spurs v Arsenal and City v Liverpool.
BT has eight, including Liverpool v Burnley and Aston Villa v Wolves.
BT also has rights to European games and showed last June’s all-English Champions League Final between Liverpool and Tottenham for free to an audience of 11.3million.
Ministers fear big games could see fans flock to the houses of friends who have Sky or BT packages.
But yesterday hopes were rising of an imminent easing of lockdown measures, including allowing people to socialise with up to ten family and friends.
A Whitehall source said yesterday: “Football clubs and the Premier League want to get going again and want a timetable.
“No10 appreciates that but will only let it happens when key tests are met.
“Ministers have insisted ticket- holders must somehow be looked after — with access to games or refunds offered.
“But they won’t get involved in pay-per-view talks.
“That is up to the Premier League and broadcasters.”
The TV insider added: “It has not yet been decided how many of these matches will be provided for free.
“It is likely to be a substantial proportion.
“However Sky and BT are not keen on all games being shown for free as it devalues their products.
“But most games will be on telly, with the less prestigious games that Sky or BT had not snapped up shown for free.
“That would be a way of allowing clubs to try to keep fans happy — because at least they would get to see the games they were planning to go to.”
VIRUS WILL GOVERN WHEN WHEN FOOTIE RETURNS
The source went on: “There is huge interest in sport because there has been a gap, so the appetite is bigger than ever.
“And sport will only restart when the lockdown is eased.
“However sport is easier to govern than things like pubs and restaurants re-opening.
“So the Government has to bear in mind some people might get together for games, and the stage the virus is at will govern how soon games are played.
“But it isn’t as simple as showing all these games for free for everyone.
“There are contracts involving millions of pounds to consider.
“The Premier League clubs get huge funding from the deal with BT and Sky — and that pays the wages and allows them to buy players from smaller clubs.
“When these deals were made, if there was a plan mooted to make a lot of games available for free they obviously would get a much, much lower bid.”
Both Sky and BT — which have filled their sports channels with re-runs — have allowed customers to pause their deals while live-action is postponed.
Clubs including Arsenal have offered fans refunds or match credits for games played behind closed doors.
Yesterday, Sky pundit and former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher said: “I don’t think we should shy away from how much football means to people.
“I do get the fact it could and I do think it will give people a lift if football comes back. But the virus will decide.”