'Pub landlady' decision threatens Sky deal

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The Independent Online

The Premier League will discover today whether it faces having to rethink drastically the way in which it sells its lucrative broadcast rights. This morning the European Court of Justice delivers its judgment in the so-called "pub landlady" case that could force the League to issue its rights on a pan-European basis and lead to a fall in the amount of income generated.

The ECJ ruling is expected to mirror an initial opinion given by one of its advocates general, Juliane Kokott, in February that distributing rights regionally or nationally was "contrary to EU law". The ECJ follows the advice of its advocate general in around 80 per cent of its judgments. The case stems from an appeal by Karen Murphy, landlady of the Red, White and Blue pub in Southsea, against her conviction and £8,000 fine in 2006 for using a Greek decoder to show live Premier League games. Currently, pubs have to pay around a £1,000 a month to show Sky's Premier League matches.

If the judgment goes against the Premier League it could result in a fall in the £3bn-plus it currently attracts through broadcasting rights, as it may decide to limit the number of European countries it sells to, such as Greece. However, it would only affect Europe and not the rapidly expanding markets in Asia and the US. The rights are worth £1.8bn in the UK with a further £1.4bn from international rights, of which some £125m comes from mainland Europe.

The Premier League may choose to sacrifice some European income to try to limit the damage to its UK market. Selling on a pan-European basis would see the successful bidder – which is still likely be Sky, as there are few broadcasters who could operate at this level – distribute its packages, possibly via sub-licensing, at a similar price across the continent, thereby limiting the saving available to publicans and consumers in the UK.

It has been estimated that it could cost Sky around £70m a year in income from pubs and clubs in the UK, which will clearly have an influence over what the broadcaster is prepared to bid next time around.

The current European deals allow for games kicking off at 3pm on Saturdays to be broadcast outside the UK – all 380 games are shown live at the moment – and the Premier League would consider cutting that number to only the 138 that are shown in the UK outside the 3pm window, since the FA and Football League would be alarmed by the Premier League's 3pm games being widely available in this country; 25,000 of England's 40,000 clubs kick off at that time on Saturdays.

The judgment has been the Premier League's major concern since Kokott's opinion was released in February. The current broadcasting deal ends in 2013 and the League is expected to begin putting the next one out to tender at the end of this season. There are worries the case may complicate the bidding process, especially as it could take up to a year to become law.

The ruling will not only affect the Premier League. How Uefa distributes its Champions League rights could also be brought into question, while La Liga and other sports will also be keeping a wary eye on today's announcement in Luxembourg. "It is going to determine the way in which broadcasting rights generally, not just live football, are marketed in the EU for generations to come," Paul Dixon, Murphy's lawyer, told Bloomberg.

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