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FIFA, UEFA lose legal challenge over TV coverage
Question of the Day
BRUSSELS (AP) - Chalk up another giant victory for Britain’s regular folks. The glorious months of World Cup or European Championship soccer, when dozens of games are followed with rabid enthusiasm across the continent, will stay on free TV, not cable.
In a major slapdown to powerful federations like FIFA and UEFA, who pocket big profits from lucrative TV broadcasting rights, a European Union high court in Luxembourg ruled Thursday that they have no right to sell most of their prime tournaments to pay-TV networks.
The court said World Cup and Euro games are cherished social and cultural events that belong to all the people, including the poor.
It was the second TV victory for ordinary citizens this month. A top EU court official also advised that bars and individuals have the right to use the cheapest satellite decoder available to watch matches in England’s Premier League, even if that sidesteps exclusive national broadcasting agreements.
Some experts see a trend.
“It is certainly valid to link those two as two consecutive victories for couch potatoes,” said Callum Murray, editorial director of Sportcal Global Communication, a sports information company specializing in broadcast and marketing rights.
The price of stadium seats for Europe’s top games have long ago spiraled out of reach for most people. A fan in London could easily spend 65 to 100 pounds ($105 to $162) for a regular seat _ and hedge fund types pay tens of thousands a year for club boxes.
Cable TV soccer packages in England begin about 40 pounds ($65) a month and some games have an additional pay-per-view cost.
But with the EU court action, there just might be more money for beer and chips in people’s living rooms.
FIFA and UEFA, which govern world and European soccer, wanted to sell the exclusive rights to most World Cup and European championship games to the highest bidder, including pay-TV channels, arguing that broadcasting rights constitute a major source of their income.
While some EU nations reserved free viewing for a limited number of games, including their own national team and the final and semifinal of those big championships, Britain and Belgium had earmarked the entire tournaments for free TV.
To boost their sales, especially from Britain, FIFA and UEFA challenged it before the General Court of the European Union, arguing the important matches like the semis and final were already protected. They also claimed that many first round games don’t even get good ratings.
FIFA and UEFA have two months to appeal the decision, but only on the points of law, not on the principles of the case.
By Matt Kibbe
The short-term deal will assure long-term overspending
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