Landlady Sparks Football Rights Revolution!

"The exclusivity agreement relating to transmission of football matches is contrary to European Union law. (The) exclusivity rights in question have the effect of partitioning the internal market into quite separate national markets, something which constitutes a serious impairment of the freedom to provide services." - Juliane Kokott, Advocate General, European Court of Justice
A pub landlady from Portsmouth has won a court case that means football fans will be allowed to use cheap foreign TV decoders to watch Premier League matches. The landmark decision by an adviser to Europe's top court is expected to have a huge impact on the way the Premier League sells broadcasting rights.

The opinion by Advocate General Juliane Kokott at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) centres on whether a rights holder such as the Premier League can license its content on a country-by-country basis, allowing it to maximise the value of its rights, as it currently does.

Kokott's opinion concerned two cases, one of them involving landlady Karen Murphy, who owns the 'Red, White and Blue' in Portsmouth. Murphy acquired a Greek decoder to show Premier League games on her pub TV, on the grounds that the Sky Sports monthly subscription was prohibitively expensive. She was subsequently sued by a body representing the broadcasting interests of the 20 English Premier League clubs, and appealed to the ECJ after losing her case in an English court and being ordered to pay a fine.

The second case involved the FA Premier League against two suppliers of foreign satellite equipment. The English body had earlier settled with a number of pub landlords who had used the decoders to show football matches. Though Kokott's ruling is officially non-binding, judges are expected to back the advocate general's line in the majority of cases.

"The exclusivity agreement relating to transmission of football matches is contrary to European Union law. (The) exclusivity rights in question have the effect of partitioning the internal market into quite separate national markets, something which constitutes a serious impairment of the freedom to provide services," Kokott said in her opinion.

Competition lawyer Becket McGrath told Reuters the announcement was potentially momentous. "There are a number of steps still to go. But potentially every publican in the country will be saying why should I be paying several grand to the official broadcasters when I can just buy one of these cards for the price of a Greek subscription. It blows a hole in the way rights are exploited. It's incredibly significant," he said.

One other area of conflict is that matches cannot be shown live in Britain at 1500 GMT on a Saturday, the traditional match time, because the broadcast of big matches could deter fans going to watch other clubs at that time. The advisory questioned whether this succeeded and whether it needed to be kept. The Premier League has benefited in recent years from the huge demand for its rights and has taken action against a number of persistent offenders who have shown live games using decoders with viewing cards for foreign broadcasters.

But Kokott said such use did not undermine the economic benefits of the rights holders. "There is ... no specific right to charge different prices for a work in each member state," she said.

BSkyB's Sky Sports, which owns the right to show most of the matches shown live in Britain and Ireland, makes about £200 million in revenues from pubs and clubs according to analysts at Jefferies Research. They estimated an adverse ruling could have a £60m to £70m impact. "However, given Sky's integral role in sports rights, we would expect the impact to be muted with (the Premier League) to offer remedies to limit the impact," Jefferies Research wrote in a client note ahead of the adviser's opinion.

Source: Reuters

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