Ofcom closes Premier League rights-sales investigation

UK media watchdog Ofcom has dropped its investigation into the rights-sales model for football’s English Premier League.

The announcement today (Monday) ends a two-year probe by Ofcom, which acted on a complaint by pay-television operator Virgin Media that the league was harming consumers.

The complaint centred on allegations that the arrangements for the collective selling of live UK television rights by the league were in breach of competition law. In particular, the complaint raised concerns about the number of matches made available for live coverage.

However, in announcing its decision to drop the investigation, Ofcom noted that the league had opted to increase the number of matches available for live broadcast in the UK by 22 to a minimum of 190 per season from the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

“The Premier League’s decision to increase matches available in its next auction for live TV rights builds upon commitments given to the European Commission in 2006," Ofcom added. "The next auction will include a ‘no single buyer’ rule, which means that more than one broadcaster must be awarded rights. At least 42 matches per season will be reserved for a second buyer, of which a minimum of 30 will be available for broadcast at the weekend.”

Ofcom has also published consumer research today that indicates that one-fifth of fans want to see more matches televised live, while a similar proportion are happy with the overall number of matches broadcast live but want to see different matches shown.

The regulator said that due to the range of views expressed in the consumer research, significant further work would be required to conclude the investigation. Ofcom added that its resources could be used more effectively to tackle other issues.

The league responded to the news by saying: "We welcome the certainty that this Ofcom decision brings… The Premier League will continue to structure and auction its UK broadcasting rights in ways that are compatible with applicable competition law."