Karen Murphy, a pub landlady, celebrated a major court victory this week after the European Court of Justice supported her right to show live games at her Portsmouth boozer bought through a cheap Greek satellite company. But hopes that homes and pubs could get access to cheap live games as a result of the ruling currently looks unlikely.
"Our view is that despite this landlady's court victory, any change in the way sports rights are controlled and shown in the UK is likely to be a long time away," according to Charlie Ponsonby, the boss of the TV, broadband and home phone comparison service, Simplifydigital.com.
Fed up with the high subscription costs for live Premier League games, Karen paid £800 a year for the Greek service which, she said, was 10 times cheaper than buying Sky Sports' pub licence. The Premier League took her to court under the Copyright Act and won: she was ordered to pay almost £8,000 for using the Greek decoder. But the ECJ sitting in Luxembourg this week overturned the decision.
The ruling effectively allows anyone to buy a decoder from elsewhere in Europe to watch games but, in practice, for homes it won't work out much cheaper. And the Premier League, keen to protect its lucrative broadcast licences, claims that pubs and clubs still need its authorisation to show games.
We won't get a final ruling on this for another three months, but in the meantime, which are the most cost-effective ways to watch live sport?
"The market is as complex as ever with Sky, Virgin Media and BT all offering competing Sky Sports deals," Charlie Ponsonby points out. "As a result you need a PhD in armchair sports to wade through the myriad of offers and counter-offers."
Simplifydigital says there are four rules to follow to find out the best deal for you. First, for those who want a complete Sky Sports package on its own with home phone or broadband, Virgin Media is the cheapest option.
Virgin charges £35 per month for the Sky Sports Collection – with its TV size (M+) package. The price excludes a £49.95 set-up charge. Sky charges £40 per month for the Sky+ Entertainment Pack and the Sky Sports Collection, which has an additional £79 set-up charge.
However, Sky is the cheapest if you want to get Sky Sports bundled with broadband and home phone services, although BT is cheaper if you're happy with just Sky Sport 1 and 2. See panel bottom for details.
If you want ESPN as well as Sky without having to sign up for a contract then TopUpTV – at £40.99 per month – is the cheapest, although it does not include Sky Sports 3, 4 or Sky Sports News.
If you want Sky Sports HD then Sky and Virgin Media are the only two choices, with Virgin cheaper at £42 per month with a £49.95 set-up.
How to save on live football matches
Bundling your TV subscription with your home phone and broadband is a cost-effective way to access live football. Sky is the cheapest place to get the full Sky Sports Collection in a bundle while BT offers the lowest price for the channels showing live Premier League, according to SimplifyDigital.com.
Sky's basic TV, broadband and phone bundle deal costs £40 per month plus a £79 set-up charge and line rental at £12.25 per month. It includes Sky Sports, Sky Broadband Lite (up to 20 Mbps broadband with a small 2 Gig usage cap) and free evening and weekend calls. The package includes Sky Sports 1,2,3,4 and Sky Sports News. You also get a Sky+ HD box, with access to BBC and ITV in HD.
If you only want Sky Sports 1 and 2, where live Premier League matches are shown, plus ESPN thrown in, BT offers the cheapest bundled option. BT TV Essentials + Broadband and Evening & Weekend Calls is £21.40 for the first four months, climbing to £34.40, excluding line rental and a £30 set up fee. It offers up to 20 Mbps with a 10 Gig usage cap, evening and weekend calls plan, but comes with a longish 18-month contract.