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IRIS 2001-8:5/7

Commission Challenges UEFA's Sale of TV Rights to Champions' League

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Tarlach McGonagle

Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam

The European Commission has formally registered its objections to the current arrangements governing the sale of television rights by the Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) for the UEFA Champions' League. The Commission's action was prompted by fears that "UEFA's commercial policy of selling all the free and pay-TV rights on an exclusive basis to a single broadcaster per territory for a period lasting several years may be incompatible with EC competition law".

The Champions' League, which generated EURO 670 million revenue in 2000/2001, is an annual tournament involving the leading football clubs from states right across Europe. An estimated EURO 530 million of its revenue comes from television rights, which are currently sold by UEFA to a single broadcaster in each EU Member State for three- to four-year periods. Contracts with broadcasters are of an exclusive nature.

The Commission takes the view that restricted competition for the broadcasting of major sporting events in general and the Champions' League in particular is not conducive to stimulating wider coverage, lower subscription fees, improved quality of coverage or a willingness to embrace new broadcasting technologies.

However, when positing its objections to the current arrangements, the Commission was careful not to challenge the European Council's stated preference for a redistribution of a part of the revenue from the sale of television rights at the appropriate levels. This preference was articulated in the acknowledgement of the specificity of sport in the Declaration of the European Council in Nice in December of last year. Nor will the Commission's statement of its objections prejudice the eventual outcome of the Commission's investigation into the matter, which is specific to the Champions' League television rights. Arrangements for the sale of television rights for other football tournaments (see, for example, IRIS 2001-5:4) are not implicated in this investigation.

"Commission opens proceedings against UEFA's selling of TV rights to UEFA Champions League", Press Release (IP/01/1043) of the European Commission of 20 July 2001 EN
"The UEFA Champions League Background Note", MEMO/01/271, of 20 July 2001 EN