British soccer opens for foreign broadcasters

Europe's highest court has opened the way for British sports fans to watch live matches through cheaper...

EWN default image new logo

Europe's highest court has opened the way for British sports fans to watch live matches through cheaper foreign TV services, sparking a showdown with rights holders who will seek to protect their broadcast rights.

The legal case, which would have huge ramifications for the way rights are sold, was sparked by English pub landlady Karen Murphy who was fined for screening live English Premier League matches via a Greek pay-TV decoder.

The court found in Murphy's favour and ruled that the sale of rights on a country-by-country basis breached EU law.

"This will introduce greater competition into the marketplace which has got to be good news for consumers," Murphy's lawyer Paul Dixon told Reuters.

However other lawyers and analysts said the ruling would simply spark a scramble by rights holders such as the Premier League to come up with a new system, and one that could even cost sports fans more dearly in the future.

"Football associations, and other rights holders, will have to tear up their strategy of granting access to broadcasts of matches and other content on a country-by-country basis," Ashurst partner Dominic Batchelor said.

"However, broadcast rights are so lucrative that rights holders are bound to seek other ways to maintain their revenues. This decision may even be an own-goal for fans if the cost of watching broadcasts becomes fixed at the highest price attainable in the whole of the EU."

Broadcasters in Britain, such as BSkyB, pay much higher fees for the Premier League rights than broadcasters in other parts of Europe.

One option would be for the Premier League to sell rights on a pan-European basis, which carries the risk of the cost increasing in other European markets.

BSkyB owns nearly all the live rights to broadcast English Premier League soccer and has been keen to clamp down on the numerous pubs around Britain which show matches via foreign services instead.

BSkyB and _ESPN _paid a combined 1.78 billion pounds for the British broadcast rights for a three-year deal starting in 2010. International rights raised over a billion pounds.

The London High Court will now decide how to apply the ruling in Murphy's case.