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Ofcom seeking fans' views as part of Premier League TV rights investigation

Monday, March 23rd 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The UK’s telecoms watchdog is to conduct new consumer research as part of its investigation into the way Premier League TV rights are sold.

Ofcom launched its investigation in November following a complaint by Virgin Media that the way rights to show live games are sold is breaching competition law.

Virgin has already sent the results of consumer research it has carried out to Ofcom but the regulator says will carry out its own.

It will canvas the views of fans who attend matches and those who watch them on TV, and look at the value placed by viewers on Premier League football.

The research will build on engagement with football organisations, clubs, fans’ groups, broadcasters and the police.

Virgin’s original complaint raised concerns about the number of Premier League matches for which live broadcast rights are made available, arguing that this number – 41% – is lower than other leading European leagues.

The complaint alleges that this leads to consumers paying more for pay TV packages that include premium sports channels.

Speaking as Ofcom launched its investigation, Virgin CEO Tom Mockridge said: “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.”

More choice for fans

One solution suggested by Virgin is to make 3pm Saturday kick-offs available for broadcast. These are currently protected to safeguard attendances at lower league games.

It has also suggested that matches should be broadcast simultaneously on both Sky and BT – the two winners of the latest auction for the rights to live matches.

Sky secured the rights to 126 matches and BT the rights to 42 games from 2016-19 in a deal worth more than £5bn.

Virgin had asked Ofcom to pause the auction, filing an ‘application for interim measures’ back in January, but the request was rejected.

Ofcom said as there was a gap of around 18 months between the auction and the start of the 2016/17 season, it saw no need to delay the process.

Football finance expert Rob Wilson of Sheffield Hallam University previously told Cable.co.uk the Ofcom investigation could give fans more choice.

“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,” he said.

“If (the Premier League) were to distribute those rights over 10 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.”

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