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Ofcom Premier League TV rights probe could give fans more choice

Tuesday, November 18th 2014 by Dean Reilly

An Ofcom investigation into how the Premier League sells live UK audio-visual media rights could ultimately give fans "much more choice" according to a football finance expert.

Rob Wilson of Sheffield Hallam University told Cable.co.uk: "The way the Premier League sell the rights is through packages. BSkyB will often buy the biggest package that gives them the rights to broadcast most of the games.

"If (the Premier League) were to distribute those rights over ten packages which were slightly smaller, we might see more people entering the market.

"BT might be able to buy a bigger share of a number of games, Virgin Media might be able to buy a share of the games, BBC and ITV might be able to do the same. Some smaller – maybe even internet-based companies – could be able to buy rights to some games. So I think what we could see is much more choice.

"But through that choice we’re actually probably going to limit the supply to those individual supporters."

Mr Wilson agreed with Virgin Media claims that UK football fans were getting a poorer deal than comparable supporters in European leagues, but suggested that the extra costs were arguably giving followers of English football a better experience.

He added: "People in the UK pay more for their pay TV subscriptions than anybody else in Europe – unquestionably. What we do need to remember though is that through the value of the television broadcasting rights, and it’s currently worth around £5bn, there's a huge amount of money going into the Premier League for redistribution.

"That gives Premier League teams much bigger transfer budgets, much bigger wage budgets. If you look at the number of international players playing in the Premier League, it’s the highest in Europe.

"Whilst people are paying more, we’re also arguably seeing a higher quality of football."

As previously reported, the UK telecoms regulator is launching the investigation following complaints from Virgin Media.

The broadcaster argues it is unfair that the percentage of matches made available for live TV broadcast under the current rights deals – 41% – is lower than some European leagues, and that UK football fans are paying too much to view matches.

Ofcom may launch such an inquiry under section 25 of the Competition Act if it is determined there is reasonable grounds to suspect an agreement is in place which could prevent, restrict or distort competition within the UK and/or the EU.

As part of this process, Ofcom will consider whether there has been a breach of UK or EU competition law.

Tom Mockridge, CEO at Virgin Media said: “Ofcom’s announcement today is welcome news. The Premier League is a global success story and one of the UK’s greatest exports and everyone wants that to remain the case. The fact remains that fans in the UK pay the highest prices in Europe to watch the least amount of football on TV.

“Now is the right time to look again at the way live rights are sold to make football even more accessible. We look forward to working constructively with the Premier League, the wider industry and Ofcom to ensure a better deal for football fans.”

A Football Supporters Federation spokesperson had previously told Cable.co.uk: “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.”

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