FOOTBALL CLUBS stand accused by the Office of Fair Trading of acting as a cartel in selling TV rights to Sky and the BBC. The Independent has made up its mind. "Football will win," it pronounced, "if we defeat this cartel."
There are good reasons why sports leagues sell rights collectively - unlike other companies they depend on each other for survival, otherwise they would have nobody to play against and there would be no one to watch.
Leagues negotiate TV deals on a collective basis so that their money can be shared between members, helping to ensure healthy competition. Money from these deals can also be reinvested throughout the sport.
Too much money is concentrated at the top of the game, but it is wrong to argue that the way to address this is to break up collective negotiations. Even if individual deals do succeed in bringing more income into football, it will be concentrated in the hands of an even smaller number of clubs than at present.
There may be a way out of all this that would satisfy both sides. The court can allow a restrictive agreement if it can be shown to bring "significant and substantial" benefits to the public. Could not a deal be struck whereby the Premier League would agree to sell rights to televise matches to a wider range of broadcasters? In addition, it could commit to a level of investment in grassroots facilities that the OFT would consider acceptable.
Negotiations for the broadcasting of matches should continue to be done centrally through the Premier League, and the league should continue to reinvest the money. If the OFT digs in its heels and refuses to concede any ground, I can see no other alternative than the break-up of English football.