EU Court moves closer to landmark TV rights ruling, Maltese operators interested parties

Monday, February 7, 2011, 17:00

by Mat Cutler

Pubs should be allowed to show football matches, including Barclays Premier League games, using a foreign satellite decoder card, according to a legal opinion that could have huge implications for Europe’s sports TV rights market.

The non-binding interpretation by Advocate General Juliane Kokott at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) centred on whether a rights holder can licence its content on a country-by-country basis. A legal opinion is submitted in advance of a court ruling that usually follows several months later, and the ruling serves as a guideline for how European law should be applied.

The UK’s High Court requested advice from the ECJ on two similar cases – a civil case between the FA Premier League and QC Leisure, which supplied the decoder card, and a criminal case against pub owner Karen Murphy. “The exclusivity agreement relating to transmission of football matches is contrary to European Union law,” Kokott said in her opinion. “There is…no specific right to charge different prices for a work in each member state.”

Local operators Melita and GO looking closely to developments in the TV rights scenario

Local operators Melita and GO looking closely to developments in the TV rights scenario

Frank Dunne, acting editor of TV Sports Markets, said the opinion would have come as “a major shock to the Premier League and to all sports rights-holders”. He added: “The extent to which the league’s arguments have been rejected is startling – they have lost on virtually every significant point of law.”

Dunne continued: “I don’t think that it follows that the only alternative to the present system of territorial licensing is a switch to a monolithic pan-European broadcasting market. I would expect that in the next round of Premier League rights deals from 2013-14, the league would still hope to be able to conclude deals with different broadcasters across the continent.”

He added: “However, if the league can no longer guarantee any broadcaster absolute exclusivity in its own market, will the value of the rights fall? The impact in the UK is that BSkyB will now probably be forced to reduce prices for its pub services and many UK pubs will definitely look to take cheaper services from abroad. But the defections may not be that great as there is a lot of attractive sports content on Sky – from rugby league to cricket – that will not be offered by European pay-television companies.”





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