Europe aims to break Sky monopoly

The EC Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, and the League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, will have a meeting in Brussels next Tuesday in a last-ditch attempt to avoid a lengthy court battle over the issue.

The crux of the problem is that Kroes wants more than one broadcaster to win the live rights for the 2007 to 2010 seasons. Sky currently holds exclusive rights to all 138 live Premiership games per season, with 88 available to general subscribers, and 50 more on a pay-per-view basis.

Fans wanting to watch live Premiership games at home must pay Sky a minimum of £34 a month, and extra for the PPV games.

The EC argues that Sky's monopoly is bad for consumers. The League is planing to sell the next set of rights in five packages of 28 games, with no broadcaster allowed more than four packages. This, it claims, should satisfy the EC.

However, EC sources argue that merely guaranteeing one package to a broadcaster other than Sky does not in itself prove that the League has created a genuinely level playing field.

The EC wants cast-iron guarantees that Sky will not be given any advantage in bidding, for example by being allowed to offer "premium payments" if it secures a specific - and majority - share of the rights.

Without a healthy majority of the rights, Sky faces losing large amounts of customers, many of whom picked Sky on the basis of its football content.

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