EC ruling ends Sky's monopoly of televised football

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The Premier League's seemingly interminable dispute with the European Commission over the sale of television rights is over, with confirmation yesterday that, from the 2007-08 season onwards, no single broadcaster will be able to hold all the live Premiership rights - as Sky does now.

The next set of rights, for a three-season period from 2007-10, will be sold in six "balanced" packages of 23 games per season, with no broadcaster allowed more than five packages. The EC, which has sought to break Sky's monopoly for the benefit of consumers, claimed the deal will give fans "greater choice and better value".

It remains unclear how the ruling will affect the value of the rights, and therefore the Premiership clubs' income. Sky paid £1.024bn last time and, in a competitive market, roughly the same total income could be expected again.

But Sky's main rival in the pay-TV market, NTL, last night claimed it would now be "unlikely" to bid "for the majority of the rights". If that is so, then Sky will have little need to bid so big next time. The knock-on effect for clubs could be a fall in income. The EC challenged the way the League sold its rights last time because it believed Sky had won all the rights by paying a premium that guaranteed it would be the sole broadcaster.