Soccer: EC probes premier league TV contracts

The European Commission was today investigating FA Premier League commercial broadcasting contracts.

The European Commission was today investigating FA Premier League commercial broadcasting contracts.

The move follows a similar inquiry, already well advanced, into the way UEFA sells its broadcasting rights.

The commission’s competition department is looking into the legality under EU law of exclusive rights to broadcast matches.

And Brussels has acknowledged how crucial the Premier League arrangements are to Britain.

‘‘Premier League matches are of particular importance on the UK broadcasting markets. If there are any anti-competitive aspects to the way in which the broadcasting rights are sold, their effects would be especially harmful,’’ said competition commissioner Mario Monti.

His remarks came in a Parliamentary written reply to Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy, whose North West constituency includes five of the Premier League clubs.

She had asked the commission whether there were similarities between the issues raised by the UEFA Champions League commercial contract arrangements and those of the Premier League.

Mr Monti’s reply said the main similarity in terms of EU law was that they both involve the joint selling of exclusive rights to broadcast football.

But there are important differences between UEFA and the Premier League in the way such rights are packaged for sale to individual broadcasters.

However, he added, the commission’s ‘‘goal’’ in both cases was to protect the public interest by ensuring that the rights were not sold in a way which harmed competition.

Mr Monti said the UEFA inquiry was at a ‘‘fairly advanced’’ stage, adding: ‘‘In the meantime, the commission is proceeding with an in-depth factual examination of the broadcasting arrangements of the FA Premier League and has been in contact with the FAPL and third parties to this end.’’

Although the Premier League has not notified Brussels of its broadcasting arrangements, ‘‘this does not prevent the commission from examining the case on its own initiative and such an examination is under way. The duration is likely to depend on the degree of co-operation the commission receives’’.

Ms McCarthy commented: I hope the FAPL will co-operate with the commission. The easiest way is to notify their contracts to the commission to demonstrate that there are no anti-competitive issues in how these broadcast rights have been centrally marketed and sold.’’

She went on: ‘‘Any proposed changes to current central marketing arrangements by the commission should be promoting more club investment in youth development and football in the community schemes. It may be that a balance between central and individual club marketing of broadcast rights could deliver this.

‘‘While it is important to retain the integrity and stability of football we need to view this investigation from the perspective of added value for clubs and fans. I am delighted that the Commission is also to seek the views of football supporters.’’

A spokesman for the FA Premier League said : ‘‘An investigation is not taking place, they have merely requested information regarding our broadcasting contracts.’’

He said finalising the broadcasting rights was a complex process and had only been completed at the beginning of this season.

The commission had made a similar request to see broadcasting contracts in 1996, he added.

‘‘In 1996, we did the same and once they had looked at the contracts they saw no reason to carry out an investigation,’’ he said.

In response to Ms McCarthy’s comments about investment in youth development, he said the Premier League was pumping in more money than ever.

‘‘The fact is there has never been so much money targeted towards the youth system.

‘‘The Premier League now gives £20 million a year to the Football Foundation, which invests in grassroots football and community projects.’’

Last night’s development comes as the Premier League continues its bitter dispute with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) over television money.

The PFA has called a strike for December 1 which could prevent any league match played in front of TV cameras from going ahead.

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