EU yellow card in BSkyB soccer deal

Competish eyes fairness of pubcaster's bidding

LONDON — Earlier this month BSkyB secured the all-important exclusive pay-TV rights for English Premiership soccer for the 2004-2007 seasons, and paid a total of £1.02 billion ($1.64 billion) for the privilege.

Now the European Union is warning the soccer clubs that it might apply antitrust rules if it discovers that the satcaster was the only bidder for the various bundles on offer.

The EU’s Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has asked for details on how many offers there were for each of the rights packages.

BSkyB said earlier last week it believed it was the only bidder for the comprehensive “Gold” and “Silver” bundles on offer, and defended its high price to analysts, saying it had expected to pay a premium, and more importantly, the price it had bid was based on the value of the games to Sky.

“It is a true premium product, and on a per-game basis we have paid about a third less (on the new contract) than previously,” said BSkyB CEO Tony Ball, “It is the right number and makes sense for us and the Premier League.”

However, one grumble from some of Sky’s rivals is that the bundles of games on offer were too large, and could only possibly be of interest to a pay TV operator.

Cable MSO Telewest as well as the ITV network reportedly bid for the third-tier “Bronze” bundle, as did Sky.

A spokesman for the EU said they wanted the rights to be broken up into smaller packages so that they would be attractive to more than one bidder.