Ofcom to consult fans as Premier League rights investigation continues

UK media regulator Ofcom has said it will canvas the opinions of thousands of football fans as it continues its investigation into a complaint from pay-television operator Virgin Media over the means by which English Premier League rights are sold to broadcasters.

Ofcom opened its investigation in November under the UK’s Competition Act, following a complaint from Virgin Media that was submitted in September. Virgin Media claimed that “significant consumer harm resulting from escalating rights costs” could be addressed through changes to the model for selling live rights to the top division of English football.

Virgin Media’s complaint alleges that the current arrangements for the collective selling of live UK television rights by the Premier League are in breach of competition law. In particular, the complaint raises concerns about the number of Premier League matches made available for live coverage.

In an update published on Monday, Ofcom said that its investigation continues with no decisions reached at this stage, adding that it was reviewing consumer research it had recently received from Virgin Media.

The regulator said: “Ofcom will also carry out new consumer research, which will canvas views of fans who attend matches and those who watch them on TV. It will look at the value viewers place on watching the Premier League. We will also be monitoring changes in retail prices of sports channels as the investigation progresses.”

Research with fans will add to views already sought from football bodies, clubs, fans' groups, broadcasters and policing organisations. Ofcom last month rejected an attempt by Virgin Media to halt the sales process for the next round of domestic rights to the Premier League.

Ofcom said there was no urgent need to intervene because about 17 months would separate the auction and the start of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign, a period in which changes could be made if it decided there were any infringements of competition rules.

UK pay-television broadcaster Sky went on to pay an increase of more than 80 per cent in its rights fee over the next three-year cycle, from 2016-17 to 2018-19, committing a total of £4.176bn (€5.5m/$6.3m) over the cycle for 126 matches per year through five packages.

Rival pay-television broadcaster BT Sport will pay an average of £320m per year for 42 games in the other two packages.