Monti demands end to Sky football monopoly

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The Independent Online

The European Commission yesterday warned that it would block the current deal to sell rights to Premiership football, even after the sport's authorities made important concessions in the packages being sold.

The Commission welcomed the changes made by the Premier League in the last few days to the rights on offer, which has seen one of the live packages split into two bundles. However, Competition Commissioner Mario Monti called on the League to show more "flexibility" by allowing new media companies to break into football coverage.

His department said English football should follow the lead of the German Bundesliga and UEFA who have both got clearance from Brussels for the sale of their rights by separately selling live and highlights packages for third generation mobile phones and the internet.

Tilman Lueder, a spokesman for Mr Monti, told The Independent: "The extra package for live television rights is definitely tremendous progress. What is missing in the UK is live rights and highlights for the internet and the same for mobile phones.

"Every time you unbundle the rights this leads to increased media diversity, which benefits the clubs and gives more coverage for the fans. Without this there can be no question of approving the deal. The Premier League are not being sufficiently flexible. They need time for reflection and diversification."

A number of broadband providers, including AOL, have complained to Brussels over the issue. It is understood that the details of the new media offering are being thrashed out between the Commission and the Premiership. Sources at the League insist that the regulator is now happy with the rest of the rights sale, including the crucial live rights packages.

This week, the League sent new tender documents to the broadcasters. There are now four live bundles of games on offer.

A spokesman for the Premier League said: "The adjustments [in the tender] as in previous years reflect the needs and responses of the commercial market."

Others suggested the move was aimed at getting Brussels clearance. The Commission is concerned that top football games are not all bought up by a single broadcaster. BSkyB currently dominates football coverage in the UK.