Up to eight live Premiership football matches could be screened on terrestrial TV in Britain after a deal was struck between BSkyB and the European Commission.
BBC, ITV and Channel Five are likely to emerge as bidders to show live league matches for the first time since the Premier League was formed in 1992.
Until now, Rupert Murdoch-owned BSkyB have enjoyed exclusive rights to the 138 live matches screened per season. The company extended its right to show live matches until 2007 by agreeing to pay £1.024bn in August this year.
However, the EC were unhappy that they were not consulted about the deal and felt that the company’s monopoly prevented fans from having access to live games. The Commission also noted that football fans were being overcharged and shortchanged as not enough matches were being screened.
Football executives feared that the EC’s involvement would lead to a loss in revenue, putting the league on the brink of collapse. Premiership clubs are now financially dependent upon the money they receive from television deals.
High-profile clubs, such as Leeds United, are heavily in debt and could have faced bankruptcy if the EC decided the cancel the current deal.
European competition commissioner Mario Monti, tested BSkyB’s nerve by threatening to take the company to court if they did not agree to share TV rights with other broadcasters.
Meanwhile, the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore met with Premier League chairman to discuss the situation before meeting with Monti to agree terms. Several chairman did not want to break the deal with BSkyB but agreed to the proposal to safeguard the future of the financially constrained clubs.
Monti has declared victory for the fans of English football, claiming that they are the ones who will benefit.
“This means that for the first time in the history of the Premier League, free-to-air broadcasters will be able to show live Premier League matches,’ he said.
‘There are very real concerns about the way the Premier League has been treating fans in the UK and this two-stage approach will safeguard the interests of fans now and in the future while ensuring an orderly transition for the clubs.”
BSkyB’s grip on Premiership football will also be slackened after the Commission ruled that when their current deal expires in 2007, TV rights to future Premiership games would need to be shared between other broadcasters.
The decision means that BSkyB will tender up to eight matches to terrestrial stations and expect a reduced cost when they re-new the contract for the start of the 2004 season. While will inevitably mean that clubs will receive less money from future deals, the shortfall shoild not prove catastrophic.