English Premiership

EPL mulls TV rights overhaul

2012-03-20 18:48
English Premiership logo (File)

London - The broadcast rights for the English Premier League (EPL) could undergo a dramatic overhaul across Europe and force fans outside Britain to pay more to watch matches.

The rights to the world's richest football league have previously been sold to broadcasters in each nation individually. The Premier League has been trying to stop viewers in Britain from watching games via foreign broadcasters using cheaper services than it sells.

The European Union's highest court has ruled that rights-holders can't block foreign viewers from watching those games via cheaper overseas broadcasters.

The ruling came after an English pub landlady started showing football games to her patrons using a Greek decoder, costing her about one-tenth of the price she would have had to pay to BSkyB. The British network paid more than $2.5 billion for the current contract.

Some British homes also have large satellite dishes that can pick up foreign broadcasts, including the Saturday 15:00 games that are not aired in their country.

The result is that the Premier League is considering selling its next set of television rights on an Europe-wide basis. That would allow the winning bidders to set the subscription costs for viewers in each country throughout the continent, either by launching channels in territories where they do not already broadcast or by sub-licensing the rights to local networks.

If BSkyB and ESPN - the current broadcasters of live matches in Britain - bought the European rights, a monopoly could be created.

"One of the implications of the (European Court of Justice) decision is that we are still working on whether we might sell the rights on a pan-European basis," Scudamore said. "We are still actually deliberating whether ... with the freedom of movement it's actually more applicable and you would actually get better protection or a better return if you sold on a pan-European basis."

The latest three-year broadcasting rights deal for Britain raised £1.8 billion, and the league plans to send out tender documents to broadcasters for the rights from 2013 between April and June.

The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN has also said it is a "realistic prospect" that Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera could enter the British market after buying the rights to screen a majority of the French league matches in France.

"Think of Europe as one territory, think of Europe as the United States - we sell to one organisation in the US," Scudamore said.

"Certainly if we decide to sell it that way it won't be good for the local indigenous broadcast partner. In a small European country, you can't possibly step up and buy the whole of Europe."

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