Monti increases pressure over soccer pact

BRUSSELS — European Union competition topper Mario Monti, still irritated at BSkyB’s virtual lock on British soccer, has threatened to shorten the satcaster’s £1 billion ($1.7 billion) three-year TV rights deal to just 12 months.

Speaking Tuesday in Rome, Monti said Brussels would prefer one-year contracts for the kinds of TV rights deal the Premier League has negotiated with Rupert Murdoch’s paybox. The deal, sealed this fall, gives the satcaster all 138 soccer matches from 2004-07 plus rights to delayed live broadcasts and Internet footage.

Standing its ground

Monti’s comments come as a public reminder to the league that Brussels will not back down from its insistence that the terms of the deal be changed.

It is a difficult situation for both sides — the league is just as unwilling to climb down as the regulators, since soccer clubs are already planning how they will spend the revenue from the pact.

Brussels insiders agree there will have to be a compromise, but it is not yet clear what form that will take.

There are virtually no one-year TV sports rights deals, and if BSkyB is forced to give up exclusivity on its three-year agreement, it will expect to pay substantially less for the rights, which is bad news for the league.

If some of the rights are opened up to other broadcasters, it is unlikely that any of them — pubcaster BBC, commercial station ITV or the cable companies — would be able to meet the league’s asking price.

The EU probe into Premier’s rights auction continues, with the results — probably a formal statement of objections — expected in the next two weeks.

However, if a deal is not reached, the EU is expected to pursue a competition case against the league to force it to make changes.

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