OFT's 47-day TV football case ends

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The Independent Online
THE LANDMARK court case brought by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over broadcasting arrangements for Premier League football ended yesterday, but no date has been set for delivering the judgment.

The judge and two lay members of the Restrictive Practices Court in London adjourned to prepare their decision, which could have a huge impact on Rupert Murdoch's domination of European football coverage. After the adjournment the OFT repeated its belief that current deals have restricted the development of pay-TV for football.

The hearing lasted 47 days and took evidence from 72 witnesses. The case was brought by John Bridgeman, director-general of the OFT, because of restrictions he believes limit the sale of televised league games.

The onus has been on the Premier League and broadcasters to satisfy the court that the restrictions on the arrangements are in the public interest.

Mr Bridgeman insisted yesterday that the case affects everyone who wants to watch Premiership football on TV. He said: "Of the 380 Premier League matches played each year only 60 are broadcast live, all on BSkyB, and the BBC shows extended highlights of some of the others."

He said: "In my opinion the current restrictions... have held back developments in the market for television broadcasting, especially pay-TV, in which Premier League football is the lead driver."

Mr Bridgeman said the reason he brought the case was to question whether current arrangements were in the public interest. He is not questioning the structure of the Premier League competition, nor does has he any objection in principle to money being redistributed between clubs to enhance competition or support the game.