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Fans back Premier League TV rights probe

Wednesday, October 1st 2014 by Dean Reilly

A group representing football fans in England and Wales has backed Virgin Media's call for an independent investigation into the cost of Premier League TV rights.

Identifying the link between the multi-billion pound TV rights market and the spiralling cost of tickets, a Football Supporters Federation spokesperson told Cable.co.uk: “This is certainly an issue that fans will be keeping an eye on, as football subscriptions don't come cheaply.

“Broadcasters' money shapes the game in many ways – the Premier League's last media deal was worth £5.5bn, and TV companies often move fixtures to really awkward times for travelling supporters. Fans are naturally wary of TV companies' motivations.

“The FSF's prime concern is with costs for match-going football supporters. Virgin Media argue that we pay the most to watch football on TV in Europe and it's certainly true that fans in the English league pay the most get into stadiums. Clubs need to understand how important full stands are to the TV “product” and use some of the mega TV deal to push down ticket prices which are often in excess of £50.”

Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to launch the formal investigation into how the rights to matches are sold, claiming consumers would be harmed by rising costs.

Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, said of the company’s decision to request the investigation: “The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means UK fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch football on TV. Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to investigate how the rights are sold ahead of the next auction.”

A spokesperson for the Premier League responded: “Live Premier League audio-visual rights have always been sold in a transparent and open process. Regulators have examined our rights packaging and sales process in considerable detail in the past and found both of them to be compliant with UK and European competition law.

“If Ofcom chooses to investigate this complaint, we will of course be happy to demonstrate to Ofcom that this is the case.”

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed to Cable.co.uk that a preliminary investigation is underway: “Virgin Media has submitted a competition complaint about the Premier League. We are considering the complaint, before deciding whether any further action is required.”

The regulator received the request in mid-September. The initial assessment is expected to take around eight weeks, after which a decision will be made on carrying out a full investigation.

BSkyB and BT could be asked to bid for the rights to the next three available Premier League seasons, starting with the 2016 – 17 campaign, from as early as December this year.

The previous auction of UK TV rights, held in 2012 and expiring at the end of the current season, earned the Premier League £3bn. This marked a 67% jump compared to the 2009 auction price of £1.78bn.

Global earnings for TV rights for the last three seasons provided £5.5bn in total to the Football Association.

A representative from BT, which is showing 38 Premier League matches this season, responded: “It is a matter for Virgin Media and Ofcom.”

Sky, which is broadcasting 116 matches, declined to comment.

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