(Sky’s Chris Kamara isn’t too worried about less screen time — he’s got the family t-shirt business to fall back on)
Though the European Commission has ruled that BSkyB can no longer hold exclusive rights to all live Premier League matches, the decision that still allows the satellite programmer to retain as many as 5 of 6 available packages should leave things largely unchanged. From the Independent’s Nick Harris.
Sky has much lose, including annual subscription revenues of some £2bn from football fans, if it does not retain most of the rights. It also has the deepest pockets, which will help to ensure it keeps them. And because the selling process will be an auction in the truest sense – bidding and rebidding allowed, not just one bid in a sealed envelope, with the highest winning – the stage is set for it to exploit its financial clout.
Importantly, the EC is now satisfied that there will be no “stitch-up” in favour of Sky when the next rights are auctioned in the spring. It was widely believed, crucially by the EC, that Sky won all the rights last time, for seasons 2004-07, by paying an “exclusivity premium”, or a bonus for getting everything. Sky has always declined to state categorically whether this was true.
Whatever, it cannot be the case next time. Each of the six new packages of rights – of 23 games each, as opposed to four packages last time, of 38, 38, 31 and 31 games – will be sold on a stand-alone basis.
Three key questions remain unanswered. Will the new set-up actually give football fans “greater choice and better value” as the EC claims? Will NTL really step meekly from the fray? And if it does, how might that affect the rights’ value, and therefore Premiership clubs’ income?
Better value is not guaranteed. It is possible Sky will win five packages, and keep its prices to viewers the same, while a pay-TV operator such as Setanta wins the sixth, and charges for it. To watch the same number of games could actually cost more.