EC warns over Sky monopoly

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The Independent Football

The knock-on effect could be a fall in players' wages or financial hardship for clubs which do not plan ahead for a decrease in broadcast revenues.

The EC, emboldened by research done by Ofcom, the media regulator, which shows that viewers are increasingly unhappy with Sky, has told the League that no single broadcaster should show more than 50 per cent of available live games under the next deal. Currently, all live games - 138 this season - are screened by Sky. The research, which Ofcom has yet to make public, apparently found that viewers objected to a lack of choice and to high pricing.

A League spokesman said last night that the League had agreed to split its rights between more than one broadcaster for the next deal, but said there no was agreement yet on how many games Sky could show. "Discussions are ongoing, we're fully engaged and we will continue to be so," he said.

Sky has had an effective 13-year monopoly on live Premiership games since the formation of the breakaway division in the 1992-93 season.

The broadcaster paid £1.1bn for its current three-year deal, which expires at the end of the 2006-07 season. That cash is a major source of income for every club and has underpinned the stratospheric rise in players' salaries in the past decade.

Sky, which used football as its main "battering ram" to expand the pay-TV market in Britain, has been willing to pay a premium rate for exclusivity. If the EC succeeds in forcing at least half of live games on to other channels - the likes of ITV, NTL, Telewest and Setanta would be in the market - the value of live football to Sky would plummet, and TV income would fall.

Neelie Kroes, the EC's competition commissioner, believes Sky's monopoly is bad for both Sky's rivals and consumers, who have no option but to pay for subscriptions to Sky if they want to watch live Premiership football at home.

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