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THE EUROPEAN Commission have sent a statement of objections to European football organisation UEFA challenging UEFA's current arrangements for the selling of the rights to televise the UEFA Champions League.
The Commission are concerned 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 and should be improved to ensure that European sports fans can benefit from a wider coverage of top European football events.
UEFA notified their Regulations concerning the joint selling of the commercial rights to the UEFA Champions League to the European Commission in 1999 requesting clearance under European Union competition rules. The statement of objections relates only to the UEFA Champions League TV rights.
Joint selling on an exclusive basis has a number of effects that threaten affordable access to football on TV unless certain safeguards are taken.
UEFA sells all the TV rights to the final stages of the UEFA Champions League on behalf of the clubs participating in the league. One effect of this is that only bigger media groups will be able to afford the acquisition of and exploitation of the bundle of rights. In turn, this leads to unsatisfied demand from those broadcasters who are unable to obtain TV rights to football.
The Commission fully endorses the specificity of sport as expressed in the declaration of the European Council in Nice in December 2000, where the Council encourages a redistribution of part of the revenue from the sales of TV rights at the appropriate levels, as beneficial to the principle of solidarity between all levels and areas of sport. However, the Commission considers that the current form of joint selling of the TV rights by UEFA has a highly anti-competitive effect by foreclosing TV markets and ultimately limiting TV coverage of those events for consumers. The Commission considers that joint selling of the TV rights as practiced by UEFA is not indispensable for guaranteeing solidarity among clubs participating in a football tournament. It should be possible to achieve solidarity without incurring anti-competitive effects.
The Commission will examine carefully any constructive proposals to render the current arrangement compatible with EC competition law and to guarantee open access to TV coverage of football.
UEFA has a total of three months to reply to the Commission's objections and can also request the organisation of a hearing at which it would be able to submit its arguments directly to the representatives of the national competition authorities. (CD)
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