UK media regulator drops investigation into sale of Premier League rights

epaselect epa05461878 Man Utd's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against Leicester during the FA Community Shield between Manchester United and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in London, Britain, 07 August 2016. EPA/ANDY RAIN

LONDON: England’s Premier League will be able to continue to seek top prices for domestic TV soccer rights for top flight games after the media regulator dropped a two-year investigation into the auction process.

Alarmed by the runaway costs broadcasters have to pay to show the top games in the country’s national sport, Ofcom launched an investigation in 2014 to examine whether the current system distorted or restricted competition.

Driven by a fierce rivalry, British pay-TV companies Sky and BT paid a combined £5.14bil (RM27.03bil) to show live matches from 2016 to 2019, smashing expectations and sparking fears that those costs would be passed on to consumers.

Ofcom said on Monday it had closed the investigation after the league agreed to increase the number of matches made available for live broadcast in the 2019/2020 season.

A survey of fans also found no clear consensus on how many matches should be shown.

“Given the considerations outlined ..., we have decided to close the investigation,” it said. “Ofcom’s resources could be used more effectively on other priorities to benefit consumers and competition.”

The sale of television rights at home and overseas has made the 20-team Premier League the most lucrative domestic competition in world soccer, with pay-TV groups in Britain needing to secure exclusive rights to attract subscribers.

That in turn enables the league to draw some of the best players in the world, such as France midfielder Paul Pogba who is on the brink of moving to Manchester United for a reported world record fee.

The investigation, sparked by a complaint by the cable TV operator Virgin Media, had been seen as a threat to the league and its leading clubs including the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Virgin, which offers the games to its subscribers via wholesale deals meaning it feels the impact of higher costs, had argued the proportion of matches shown live on TV was lower than elsewhere in Europe.

The fact they are also shown exclusively by an individual broadcaster means the pay-TV groups compete to pay the highest price.

Ofcom said from 2019/2020 a minimum of 190 matches would be available for live broadcast per season, half of the 380 games that are played. - Reuters

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