Football: Pub v EPL clash could overhaul TV rights

6th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

A pub landlady is taking on the might of the English Premier League (EPL) over the broadcasting monopoly on live matches, in a clash that could revolutionise European football.

Forget the outcome of this weekend's big showdown between Chelsea and Liverpool: this battle could send shockwaves through the multi-billion-dollar football broadcasting rights industry.

For many people football has got too inflated and this issue could bring it crashing back down to earth.

The Red White & Blue pub in the Southsea district of Portsmouth on the southern English coast sits on the corner of two streets.

It's a short walk away from Fratton Park, home to the 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth.

Curtains on the window, a dartboard hanging on the wall and, of course, the big screen: it could be any town pub in Britain.

However, the battle that could decide the future of football on pay television across the European Union could be determined from within its walls.

When Karen Murphy took over the pub in 2004, she cancelled the license to show live EPL matches with British satellite broadcaster BSkyB and signed up with the Greek service Nova instead.

"Nova I bought for about £800 ($1,300, 950 euros) for a year. Sky was roughly £7,000 a year: a lot of difference," she told AFP.

However, the all-powerful EPL, which has sold the rights to show live matches to BSkyB and is by far the richest football league in the world, with the biggest television deals, was not happy.

Murphy was prosecuted and had to pay almost £8,000 in fines and costs.

However, she decided to continue the fight.

"If you wanted to buy a car, you can go to any type of garage. Me, as a publican, I can only go to a Sky garage and I have to pay 10 times the price," she said.

"I don't believe such corporate people can dictate to me what I have to pay."

She took her case to the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest legal body in the 27-country EU.

And on Thursday, she scored first in the David and Goliath match, when ECJ Advocate General Juliane Kokott advised that in her view, "territorial exclusivity agreements relating to the transmission of football matches are contrary to EU law".

If her advice is upheld by ECJ judges, it could trigger a "revolution" in European football, said Frank Dunne, an analyst with TV Sports Markets, a newsletter specialising in the business of televised sport.

"Publicans in the UK will be able to pick and choose which service they want to show Premier League football. They can choose a Greek, an Italian, a French," he told AFP.

"Given that lot of subscription services in Europe are a lot cheaper than Sky Sports, probably a large number of pubs and clubs will cancel their subscription. That would have an economic impact on Sky and obviously on the Premier League."

If the ECJ judges follow the advocate general's advice, the Premier League may no longer be able to sell the broadcasting rights country by country.

The last Premier League three-year television deal, which runs out next season, brought in £3.5 billion, of which £1.4 billion was paid by foreign broadcasters.

"If they can no longer split up Europe into different markets, if you are forced to sell en bloc, will they get the same premium they get now?" Dunne asked.

In a statement, the Premier League said it was considering Kokott's advice.

"Our initial view is that it is not compatible with the existing body of EU case law and would damage the interests of broadcasters and viewers of Premier League football across the EU," he said.

"If the European Commission wants to create a pan-European licensing model for sports, film and music then it must go through the proper consultative and legislative processes to change the law rather than attempting to force through legislative changes via the courts.

"The ECJ is there to enforce the law, not change it."

Nonetheless, the advice had the corks popping at The Red, White & Blue.

"I'm very happy," Murphy said. "It was only an opinion and we still have to wait and say on the ruling. But that is the real first step towards victory."

© 2011 AFP

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