Karen Murphy may be wondering whether it was all worth it. Lawyers for the landlady of the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth did not claim today’s European Court of Justice verdict, that it is not illegal to buy decoder cards from abroad to watch Premier League matches, was a significant victory. Instead, Paul Dixon was quoted by BBC Radio Solent as saying: “It will mean increased competition in the broadcast market, that’s for sure.”
In reality, it was a hollow victory for Murphy and her legal team. The European Court has backed her five-year campaign and upheld the view that Sky’s exclusivity in the UK is against European free trade laws. However, in a potentially significant move the Court also ruled that while pubs do not breach the Premier League’s copyright by beaming in the matches from overseas, broadcasting the Premier League’s “anthem” and graphics without its permission was a breach of copyright.
So while individuals will be able to buy set-top boxes and decoder cards to watch Premier League football beamed in from overseas, pubs and clubs will find it more difficult.
So the armchair fan will be the obvious winner from today’s verdict. He or she will get more choice, with potentially more broadcasters offering more games at lower prices.
Other potential winners are BBC Radio Five Live and TalkSport, who will gain more listeners as fans turn to them for commentaries on foreign pictures.
As for the losers, BSkyB shares fell four per cent this morning on news of the verdict – suggesting the markets believe Sky will lose revenue unless they can strike a new deal with the Premier League.
Football’s traditional 3pm kick-off time, particularly for Football League and Championship fixtures, may also suffer if fans can watch Premier League games at home at that time.
As for the Premier League, the verdict may not be the catastrophic decision that some were predicting. Under Richard Scudamore, the league has been ruthless in its pursuit of TV deals in new markets. They will now re-double efforts to sell more to Asian and non-European markets and could even set up their own TV channel. A pan-European deal with Sky may also help the Premier League to maintain existing revenues.
The real winners, as always, will be the lawyers, who will be arguing over the small print of the verdict over the coming weeks and months. Only then will it become clear who has gained the most.