OFT questions TV deals on football

On the ropes: OFT decision casts a cloud over satellite broadcaster's posting of sharply higher profits
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The Independent Online
A shock decision by the Office of Fair Trading last night threw Britain's sporting organisations into chaos, writes Mathew Horsman.

The watchdog has asked the Restrictive Practices Court to review exclusive contracts between the Premier League and BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster, calling into question the collective basis on which virtually all television sports rights are negotiated.

According to the OFT, an agreement among the 20 Premiership clubs to negotiate collectively with broadcasters constitutes anti-competitive behaviour under UK law. Other groups, including the Test and County Cricket Board and the Rugby League, similarly pool rights in order to secure broadcasting contracts.

"All sports deals are done on this basis," said a sport lawyer. "Any change would just bring chaos to the game."

According to sport insiders, the existing domestic broadcasting arrangements are not really at issue. Senior clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United, which are believed to have argued in favour of a competition review, are eager to sell their rights separately on a pay-per-view basis, in order to maximise their revenues.

However, poorer clubs fear they will lose out. They are reliant on collective broadcasting deals which spread the financial benefits more widely.

Under the present Premier League rules, "no league matches shall be televised or recorded or transmitted by satellite or cable or any similar method without the written consent of the Board." It is the extent of this blanket prohibition that has attracted, belatedly, the attention of the competition authorities.

The OFT is also concerned about BSkyB's contractual right to renew the current broadcasting contract for a further five years, provided it matches any competing bid.