Premier League hits out at Brussels over TV coverage

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The Independent Online

The Premier League has hit back at criticism from regulators that it allows too few football matches to be shown on television with evidence from fans that more games were not wanted.

Addressing a key criticism levelled at the League by the European Commission the last time a contract for television rights was awarded, the football organisation produced a fans' survey yesterday showing just 9 per cent thought more games should be screened. The study of 25,000 fans found 69 per cent thought the quantity of televised football was "about right" while 22 per cent felt too much was shown.

Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, said football fans were "very much the lifeblood of the game", adding "we must take note of what fans are saying about the amount of live televised football. Clearly there is a balance to be struck and we are just about achieving it."

According to criticism from the European Commission in 2003, when the League sold all its live rights once again to BSkyB, the structure of the rights on offer meant that not enough games were shown each season. Brussels fears that consumer choice is limited by too few matches being available on television and those that are available being shown only by one pay-TV company, Sky.

The Independent revealed last week that the Commission is pressing for a new structure guaranteeing that Sky could not buy the rights for all the games in the next three-year rights package to be offered, covering the 2007-2010 seasons. Brussels has brought in the UK media regulator, Ofcom, to help achieve its aims and is thought to want a greater number of games to be offered to television.

At the Commission's insistence, when the rights were last awarded by the League - in 2003 - the 138 games a season on offer were divided into four packages in the hope one or more would go to a broadcaster other than Sky. Sky simply bid high for each package and won every tranche of matches, maintaining its monopoly over top-class English football coverage.