Brussels - European Union countries can keep all Soccer World Cup and European Championship games on free-to-air television after a high court challenge by FIFA and UEFA failed.
The football governing bodies wanted to sell the exclusive rights to most games to the highest bidder, including pay TV channels, arguing that broadcasting rights constitute a major source of their incomes.
However, the General Court of the European Union said the World Cup and European Championship were "single events" that could not be divvied up at will.
FIFA and UEFA can appeal the decision, but only on the points of law, not on the principles of the case.
EU nations can designate certain sports events to have such social and cultural significance that they can force organisers to sell rights to free-to-air companies only.
The football federations had acknowledged that the most popular games, like the final and the opening matches of the World Cup and European Championship, merited being broadcast on free-to-air television.
But the court said that it cannot be anticipated which game will be important for which country, allowing for member states to give the whole tournament special status.
EU Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said "this is good news for people who want to watch important sporting events on television without having to pay for it."
UEFA said it would study the ruling before commenting further.
The football federations had challenged the system in Britain and Belgium. The British Conservatives welcomed the ruling.
"We need to ensure that the crown jewels of our national sports are accessible to everyone. I hope that FIFA and UEFA will not appeal this ruling," said MEP Emma McClarkin.
McClarkin said every single game has prime viewing interest.
"Group matches could be very important to other countries towards the end of the group stages. England fans will want to watch the other matches across the groups to see who their team may be playing in the knockout stages.
"These matters are in the national interest and they should be free for the nation to watch," she said.