Leading Article: Football will win if we defeat this cartel

THE OFFICE of Fair Trading will go to court today to argue that top football clubs should be forced to end their television rights deal with BSkyB and the BBC. If they are successful in showing that the top clubs have acted as a cartel - that they have distorted the market and jacked up prices to suit themselves - football as a whole will be the winner.

Fears have been expressed that new plans to redistribute money from the Premiership to lower divisions and grass-roots football would be put in danger by liberalising the television market. The Football Task Force, in its first report, argued that such a redistribution was imperative if the game were to survive the scandalous selling off of millions of acres of playing fields that has marred the last few years. If the pounds 743m paid by the TV companies for the right to Premiership football were to fall, then reinvestment could indeed be threatened.

But there is no inherent reason why this should be so. If the clubs were to sell their games individually, it could open up viewer choice and stimulate proper competition for the rights; it will probably bring in more money, to the benefit of all. Football's problem is not the amount of cash it generates in total but the fact that, since the Premiership broke away, the rights to that money have been concentrated at the top. There will be every opportunity, even if rights are sold to individual games, to put new structures in place to redistribute that income.

Opposition to change is based not on logical economics but on the conservatism that pervades English football, from the amateurism of the Football Association to the insistence on the merits of the physical "English game". The sooner real competition is allowed, with different companies free to experiment with their coverage and to attempt to outstrip their rivals, the better.

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