Brussels, 22nd March 2006
The European Commission has adopted a decision under EC Treaty competition rules that renders commitments from the FA Premier League concerning the sale of media rights to the Premier League football competition legally binding. The case concerned the agreement between the clubs participating in the English Premier League competition to sell media rights to that competition jointly through the FA Premier League. These commitments, which will remain in force until 30 June 2013, will increase the availability of media rights, and improve the prospects of competition in providing services to consumers.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: “The solution we have reached will benefit football fans while allowing the Premier League to maintain its timetable for the sale of its rights.”
The Commission sent a Statement of Objections on this case in December 2002 (see IP/02/1951). The Statement of Objections recognised that there are in principle benefits to joint selling to football fans and media operators as well as to the clubs of the Premier League. However the Commission raised concerns that in practice the FAPL’s implementation of the joint selling agreement deprived media operators and British football fans of choice, led to higher prices and reduced innovation. The FAPL submitted provisional commitments to the Commission in December 2003, which included a commitment that no single broadcaster would be allowed to buy all of the packages of live match rights from 2007 onwards (see IP/03/1748). These commitments were the subject of a public consultation, following which the Commission sought clarifications from the FAPL concerning the adequacy and detail of the provisional commitments. These clarifications were obtained in November 2005 (see (IP/05/1441).
This Commission decision, based on Article 9 of the procedural Regulation (1/2003) for the implementation of EC Treaty competition rules, takes into account the result of consultations on the commitments offered by the FAPL. The clarified commitments inter alia specify the precise terms of the no single buyer rule and the conduct of the auction process; create more evenly balanced packages of rights; and increase the availability of rights to broadcast via mobile phones.
The commitments offered by the FA Premier League therefore provide for more rights, including television, mobile and internet rights to be made available and ensure that the rights are sold in an open and competitive bidding process subject to scrutiny by an independent Trustee. The live television rights will be sold in six packages – both smaller and more balanced than previously - and no one buyer will be allowed to buy more than five. The commitments also enhance the scope for individual clubs to exploit rights that are not sold by FAPL or used by the purchaser.
This decision addresses the agreement between the Premier League clubs to sell their rights jointly through the FAPL. The decision is binding on the FAPL for the duration of the Commitments, but does not bind national competition authorities or national courts. The decision does not address issues which may arise from contracts concluded as a result of the sales process: if these contracts give rise to competition issues, then they would require a separate assessment under the competition rules either at European or, more likely following Regulation1/2003, national level.
The Commission’s commitment decision covers will be binding upon the FA Premier League until 30 June 2013. The Commission could impose a fine amounting to 10% of the FA Premier League’s total worldwide turnover if it breaks its commitments without having to prove any violation of the EC Treaty’s competition rules.