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Ofcom to investigate Premier League selling practices

Ofcom logoUK media regulator Ofcom has launched an investigation into how the English Premier League sells live TV rights for its matches, following a complaint by Virgin Media.

Ofcom cited its power to launch investigations under the Competition Act if it believes there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is an agreement which has as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the UK and/or the EU.

Ofcom will consider whether there is a breach of the UK and/or EU competition law prohibition on agreements and decisions which restrict or distort competition.

Virgin Media has alleged that the arrangements for the ‘collective’ selling of live UK television rights by the Premier League for matches played by its member clubs break UK competition law, particularly in relation to the number of Premier League matches for which live broadcasting rights are made available.

According to the Liberty Global-owned cable operator, the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast under the current Premier League rights deals – at 41% – is lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are available for live broadcast.

According to Virgin Media, this practice leads to higher-prices for packages that include premium sports channels, both to consumers and to resellers such as the cable operator.

In the initial phase of the investigation, Ofcom expects to gather further information using its powers under the Competition Act.

Ofcom said it would be “mindful” of the likely timing of the next auction of live UK rights, and added that it is open to discussion with the Premier League about its plans.