U.K. soccer group to EU: Butt out

Gov't wants to protect national game

BRUSSELS — The debate on the future of TV soccer in the U.K. heated up Wednesday when a delegation arrived in Brussels bent on telling European Union regulators to butt out of the TV rights spat.

The group, led by reps from the U.K.’s ruling Labour party, warned EU competition chief Mario Monti that changing the way the top division of soccer clubs sell their TV rights will damage the national game.

The English Premier League sells the TV rights to all its matches in one package, a process called collective bargaining. Changing this system to allow games to be sold individually would widen the gulf between the richest and poorest clubs because broadcasters wouldn’t pony up for games that don’t feature the top teams such as Manchester, Arsenal and Liverpool.

The EU Commission opened its probe into collective bargaining in December last year, arguing that it was “tantamount to price-fixing.”

Brussels claims that because only 25% of matches are broadcast live, 75% of Premier League soccer is unfairly taken off the market and that clubs should be free to market the rights to these games on their own.

Selling the rights as one big package also means that only one broadcaster can afford them — Rupert Murdoch’s cash-rich satcaster BSkyB.

EU lawmakers have already forced soccer’s European governing body UEFA to change the way it sells the TV rights to its premier competition, the Champions League. UEFA used to sell all the games to a single broadcaster in each country; now it has to sell the rights in several packages for shorter periods of time, with individual soccer clubs also able to exploit some of the rights.

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