Brussels prepares to take on Sky over Premiership monopoly

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The Independent Online

Competition officials at the Commission are angry that the Premier League is refusing to make radical changes to the way it sells broadcast rights and want an end to BSkyB's stranglehold on the market. They are preparing to send a list of formal objections to the Premier League's position, a move that is the first step towards legal action against the football body.

The league sent its proposals on changing broadcasting rights rules to the Commission on Friday. It outlined a number of packages of live football rights that it would be prepared to let other broadcasters share with Sky.

But in the eyes of the Commission, the league is not going far enough in terms of opening up the market to competition and, at the weekend, officials confirmed that they were intending to send a "statement of objections" to the Premier League. The issuing of this formal document would mark a dramatic escalation of the row.

A spokesman for the Commission said the statement would be sent to the Premier League within the next few weeks. It will allege that the Premier League is defending a situation that amounts to "restrictive business practice" and anti-competitive behaviour, saying that the League's proposals do not meet its requirements.

A spokesman for the Premier League said discussions with the Commission over the broadcasting rules were still "ongoing" and said the English football group was confident agreement with the EU would be reached.

The league has already agreed to make available a small slice of live football rights for a second broadcaster from 2007, ending Sky's 13-year monopoly of the games. But the EC wants at least half of the 138 televised fixtures to be in the hands of competing channels.

It says unless a more "meaningful number" of games is put up for auction, no other broadcasters will find it of sufficient commercial interest to bother to compete.

A spokesman said: "We want to see the rights to broadcast these matches organised in a way that ensures good access for the consumer, the viewer and the fan, through at least two TV stations."

ITV, the BBC and other broadcasters hoping for a major overhaul of the system governing the broadcast of live football have argued that they need to capture at least several dozen games to build reasonable audience figures.

Opening up a bigger chunk of the games to rival channels, however, poses a significant threat to Sky, which generates significant revenues from its sports subscription packages. The leagues fears that if Sky was faced with more serious contenders for the live rights, it may not pay as much for them, which could damage the financial viability of some clubs.