EC allows joint media rights for Premier League football

MUMBAI: The European Commission's competition services have reached a provisional agreement with the Football Association Premier League (FAPL) regarding the joint selling of the media rights to Premier League matches.

The Commission has also reached a provisional agreement with BSkyB regarding its recent acquisition of TV rights to those matches.

The agreements will be submitted for third party comments, and will then take effect in two stages. Some changes will be introduced for the start of the 2004-05 season while the new system would come into place in 2006 when the rights are next tendered.

Last year in December, the Commission had warned the FAPL through a statement of objections that joint selling arrangements in place at the time violated European competition rules. This was because they were not in the interest of competition in the broadcasting market or the fans. The Commission has stated that its intervention has already yielded results given that the new tendering process, which took place last June, substantially increased the number of rights available.

The number of live matches broadcast on television in the UK increased from 106 to 138, with an additional game broadcast on Saturday afternoons in Ireland. In addition, all matches not broadcast live will be shown in later. For the first time in the UK, football fans can see all of their club's matches after a short delay. Video clips can also be delivered to mobile phones as soon as the action occurs during the match, rather than hours or days later as is currently the case. Internet rights and club television rights have also been improved.

The Premier League has now agreed that after 2006 the tendering procedures for TV rights will ensure that there are at least two television broadcasters of live Premier League matches. The Premier League will create balanced packages of matches showcasing the Premier League as a whole, and no one broadcaster will be allowed to buy all of the packages. The Premier League will also examine, jointly with the Commission, the way in which the auctions are conducted to ensure that they do not exclude potential competitors.

But there will already be further benefits for fans from the start of next season. BSkyB has agreed to offer to sub-license a set of up to eight top quality Premier League matches each season to another broadcaster. This means that for the first time in the history of the Premier League free to air television will have a realistic opportunity to show live Premier League matches.

Commissioner Monti issued a statement saying, "As consumer groups have argued, there are very real concerns with the way in which the Premier League has been treating football fans in the UK. I believe that the two-stage approach which has been agreed will safeguard the interests of these fans both now and in the future, while ensuring an orderly transition for the clubs."

"By creating opportunities for broadcasters other than BSkyB now, and even greater opportunities in the future, the Commission is aiming to increase consumer choice in the UK. Following similar agreements with UEFA this provisional agreement shows that applying the competition rules to sport ensures that the interests of both fans and leagues are fairly balanced,"he added.

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