Britain to probe Premier League rights auction

The live rights for the games are currently split between Sky and BT.

The Manchester City squad pose for pictures with the trophy after they won the Premiership title race following a 2-0 victory in the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester on May 11, 2014. Picture: AFP.

LONDON - British media regulator Ofcom said on Tuesday it would investigate whether the method used by the Premier League to sell live media rights for soccer matches to its home market distorted competition.

Virgin Media revealed in September it had filed a complaint over the increasing costs of showing Premier League soccer matches, saying consumers were paying the price for the escalating bidding war between broadcasters.

The live rights for the games are currently split between Sky and BT.

The price of broadcasting the country's top-flight matches has steadily risen since Sky, partly owned by Rupert Murdoch, used soccer coverage as the lynchpin in building his pay-TV business in the early 1990s.

The three-year rights package running to 2016 was sold for 3 billion pounds, up 70 percent on the previous deal, and Virgin has predicted the cost of the next round, which is expected to start towards the end of the year, could rise by a further 60 percent.

Virgin argues that the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast, at 41 percent, is lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are shown.

Ofcom said it would consider whether there had been a breach of either British or European Competition law which distorts or restricts competition.

BT, which along with Sky is expected to participate in the next auction, declined to comment.

Sky was not immediately available to comment, while the Premier League said it was preparing a statement.