EC gives fans a sporting chance

The European Commission’s proposals to protect sports fans from the spectre of pay-television shows an all-important regard for local differences. John Shannon is president of Grey International.

European Commission proposals for guarantees that major sporting events are televised free of charge reflect growing EC recognition of the value of country-by-country self-regulation.

The European Parliament is concerned that the growth of subscription and pay television doesn’t impede full public access to major sporting events. In response, the Commis-sion has proposed a plan that requires pay-TV channels to respect national government requirements for the televising of sport.

In reality, only three European countries operate lists of protected sports events: France, which includes the Tour de France, Five Nations Rugby, the European

Cup and the Olympic Games; the UK, which protects Wimbledon, the Grand National and a number of other events; and Belgium, which draws up a new list every year.

It seems inevit-able, however, that other countries will adopt the idea in light of the new EU position.

It could be argued that by imposing restrictions on television rights negotiations these proposals are anti-competitive. Yet its approach has become an undeniable problem and the Commission appears to have steered a pragmatic path between the needs of the viewer and commercial interests.

The proposal is unlikely to undermine the long-term development of pay TV because it affects only a few, albeit major, events. Furthermore, pay-TV channels remain at liberty to bid for major sporting events and may sell on rights to other broadcasters if they wish to do so in specific countries. Finally, the requirement to screen certain events free of charge in certain markets does not affect the development of lucrative advertising and sponsorship programmes around protected fixtures.

In its willingness to recognise individual market peculiarities across the region, the European Commission’s proposed solution to this issue appears to be another step away from an all- embracing solutions across the region.

It suggests, in fact, a new level of sympathy tow-ards commercial and cultural realities, and it acknowleges that the successful development of the EU region as a whole will be determined not by resisting local differences but by embracing them.

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