Premier League faces European broadcasting dispute

BY foxsports • February 3, 2011

Consumers in Europe should be able to use the cheapest satellite decoder available to watch soccer games, even if that sidesteps exclusive national broadcasting agreements, the top adviser to the European Union's highest court said Thursday.

If followed by a full ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the coming months, the decision could have a huge impact on how the rights of England's Premier League are sold in the rest of Europe and how it creates revenue for the world's richest soccer league.

''Our initial view is that it is not compatible with the existing body of EU case law and would damage the interests of broadcasters and viewers of Premier League football across the EU,'' the Premier League said in a statement.

The case pits the Premier League against companies that import Greek decoders into Britain to see the games at a cheaper price.

''It could set off an earthquake in sports rights marketing,'' said Peter Duvinage, a German legal expert. ''The possible economic impact is tough to assess for now.''

Advocate General to the Court of Justice Juliane Kokott said divvying up Europe into national markets for separately priced broadcast agreements ''constitutes a serious impairment of the freedom to provide services.''

The full court often, but not always, follows the advocate general's advice. A ruling is expected this year.

For years, the 27-nation EU has been working to turn the territory of its member states into on open market unburdened by commercial frontiers that hurt continentwide trade in the past.

Kokott sees the practice of selling rights on a country-by-country base and keeping cheaper alternatives out of other member states as a blatant infringement on that principle.

The court said there was no reason to charge more, or less, in any particular states to watch the same soccer game.

Currently, the court says, the Premier League forces broadcasters to encrypt their signal so it cannot be seen outside their broadcast area. Viewers have to buy decoders to watch the games.

Companies have exported such decoders to more expensive markets, making it possible to view games at cheaper rates. The Premier League started court proceedings against the practice and targeted a local landlady of a pub who used a Greek decoder to show the games. The local court dealing with it asked the EU high court for an interpretation.

The Conservatives in the European Parliament sided with the Premier League.

''These are national football leagues that are being broadcast, and they should be subjected to national territorial rights agreements,'' MEP Emma McClarkin said.


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