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FA Premier League rights: a new twist

I wrote a blog here on September 24th about the intervention of the competition authority in Brussels to prohibit the FAPL from selling more than 50% of its live games to any one broadcaster (Sky has bought exclusive rights since the foundation of the FAPL in 1992). In the last few days the two UK cable broadcasters, NTL and Telewest, announced that they would merge and that they would bid for FAPL rights under the new competition regime.

This is a significant development, since although the competition authorities have been complaining about the restrictiveness of the FAPL contracts for years (exclusivity, too few games shown, no right for clubs to sell games not in the collective deal) their problem has been their inability to find any serious players in market to complain. For example, when the UK courts looked at the issue in 1999, not a single UK broadcaster testified against the arrangements and the BBC was in fact on the side of Sky, even though it meant that they could not get any live games.

To have a broadcaster demonstrating a willingness to pay serious money to buy a significant share of the rights will represent a major boost to the competition authority's case.