Premier League rights auction to proceed after Virgin Media complaint rejected

UK media regulator Ofcom has today (Wednesday) rejected an attempt by pay-television operator Virgin Media to halt the sales process for the next round of domestic rights to the Premier League, the top division of English football.

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. The first round of the auction for live domestic television rights for the three seasons from 2016-17 is now set to proceed as planned this Friday.

Under the law Ofcom could only block the auction if it found there would be “significant damage to a particular person or category of person” or harm to the public interest if it proceeded. The Premier League last week labelled Virgin Media as “self serving” after the pay-television operator made its request. Virgin Media filed an “application for interim measures” with Ofcom, asking the watchdog to pause the sales process for the three seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Last autumn, Virgin asked Ofcom to look into the increasing cost of Premier League rights, and the regulator’s decision is due to be delivered in March. The league is expecting to award the rights for the next cycle this month.

Virgin Media had claimed: “If the auction continues unchecked, Ofcom’s ability to act will be prejudiced and it will likely be 2019 until the next opportunity to reign-in the rampant inflation in prices for viewers.”

Virgin Media has embarked on a campaign designed to make Premier League matches more widely available to watch live. It has called for the sale of rights to more games and for at least some rights to be sold on a non-exclusive basis.