TV rights in football: will fans pay the price?

29 2007

TV rights in football: will fans pay the price?

Football Clubs in Europe should show solidarity with each other when it comes to selling TV rights - that's the message contained in a report to be debated by MEPs on Wednesday. By "joint selling" their TV rights a league or championship can protect itself and its fans says the report. However, it calls for a "public debate" on how football is watched as "the broadcasting of sports... is increasing taking place on pay channels thus becoming inaccessible to a number of consumers".

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EU / Calcio, on Ladysilvia; The report has been prepared by Belgian People's Party MEP Ivo Belet and the debate on Wednesday is likely to touch upon how fans watch football matches in the future. The number of football channels is increasing - some clubs like Manchester United have their own channel - but is this good for fans? Recent developments suggest that the days of football on TV for free may be ending. This is reflected in the amount that TV bidders will pay for the right to screen a first rank tournament - for example the TV rights for the European "Champions League" for 2006-2009 went for "647 million. With that kind of investment those who pay for them expect a return on their investment via pay-to-watch TV.

Individual vs Joint selling of TV rights

At present there are two ways of selling TV rights for football in the EU. The first is "individual selling" where single clubs conclude deals with TV broadcasters. Spanish Team Real Madrid have a "1.1 billion deal with "Mediapro" to televise their matches until the end of the 2013 season. Naturally, this guarantees Real a cash flow that other teams in the Spanish League can only dream about. In turn this allows them to buy the world's best players and so continue their domination of the domestic league. Ivo Belet believes that such individual selling of TV rights "threatens completely to destroy the competitive balance" in football.

The second way of selling football rights is "joint selling" where Clubs in an Association gather together to sign one large single contract with a single broadcaster in one country. In January this year England's "Premier League" did just that with 81 broadcasters in 208 countries. That will net them "950 million from foreign revenue and "420 million from domestic sources.

Although this has been criticised by some as a "monopoly practices" this is an approach the Belet report favours. Moreover, in a recent case the European Commission ruled that this practice is not contrary to the EU's Competition law. Last year an "Independent European Sport Review" concluded that "central marketing (collective selling) of rights by the football authorities at European level is essential to ensure that solidarity nurtures the different levels of the pyramid, not least the grassroots".

TV online and on the phone

The rapid advance of technology has led to the internet and mobile phones being used to watch football. During the last World Cup in Germany 2.5 million people in the UK followed the matches on the internet. This is particularly so if games are shown during the day and people are at work with access to a computer. However, controlling access can be a problem: UEFA - the governing body of European football is currently locked in a dispute with web TV stations in China and India over copyright issues. For mobile phones, a recent study indicated that mobile television could have 100 million subscribers in Europe by 2010. Clearly, the way football is watched will continue to evolve. Watch this live online here on the Parliament's website on Wednesday.

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