Ofcom has announced that it will be investigating the sale of live TV rights for the FA Premier League under the competition act. It follows a complaint by Virgin Media that Brits are getting a poor deal compared to fans in other European nations.
The live audio-visual rights for Premier League matches are soon to be auctioned again, with the current agreements with BT Sport, Sky Sports and others expiring at the end of the 2016 season, but Virgin Media called on UK independent communications regular Ofcom to step in.
The cable operator predicts that the cost of the rights will raise by a further 60 per cent with the next round of bidding, which will ultimately be passed down to the viewer in the form of price hikes for sports packages.
Virgin Media claims that UK football fans already pay the highest fees to watch live matches on TV in Europe. In terms of what operators must pay at retail to show all live matches is almost twice as much as the next highest, in Italy. It's over five times as much as their French counterparts pay.
The average price for the viewer, therefore, works out to be three times higher than for other top leagues. In addition, UK fans only get to see around 41 per cent of all Premier League matches broadcast live, in comparison to 100 per cent of matches from La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A.
The company asked Ofcom to investigate how the rights are sold, with the UK's independent communications regulator agreeing that there are grounds to explore the issue further. The current live TV deal is worth £3 billion and represented an inflation of 70 per cent, a further 60 per cent would take that to over £4.5 billion.
"The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means UK fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch football on TV," said Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media's chief corporate affairs officer at the time of the complaint.
Ofcom has revealed that it now wishes to open a dialogue with the Premier League about its plans for the next auction and the Football Supporters' Federation and other supporters' groups to understand their views.