Publican Karen Murphy found a cheap way to show football in her Portsmouth pub: she bought a Greek satellite decoder and tuned into foreign broadcasts of English matches. And now a European Union legal adviser has ruled that she had every right to do so.
Murphy was prosecuted by lawyers working on behalf of England’s top flight clubs who argued that Sky TV had exclusive rights to show its games in the UK. She had to pay nearly £8,000 in fines and costs.
But the landlady is not one for lying down and so she took her case all the way to the European courts. Her case was that EU single market legislation should let her use any European provider, and to force her to use one in the UK would be illegal.
In a non-binding opinion, advocate Juliane Kokott of the European Court of Justice agreed with Ms Murphy that the current broadcasting rules breach EU law.
“(The) exclusivity rights in question have the effect of partitioning the internal market into quite separate national markets, something which constitutes a serious impairment of the freedom to provide services,” said Kokott.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will make a ruling on the matter later this year. And while the court does not have to accept the advocate’s ruling, judges follow their guidance more often than not.
But if they do, selling sport, or indeed movies, or any other content, on a country by country basis within the EU may no longer be possible. So any publican, indeed any individual, could opt in to services from any European broadcaster.
Sky will be watching this very carefully, as will other broadcasters for whom football is big business. Industry experts say satellite companies face having to reform – and that could lead to the creation of just a handful of pan-European broadcasters.
There would also be consequences for the EPL. Future broadcasting deals would likely bring in less income and so clubs would have much less to spend. Given recent transfer market excesses, many will not see this as a band thing, however.
There is a very long way to go before this matter is concluded. The Court could ignore the advocate’s opinion. If it doesn’t an appeal would be a certainty and arguments about the special nature of sports would be made. It could be years before it is resolved.
This Advocate’s opinion may not lead to an immediate revolution in broadcasting. But it certainly sends a large cat amongst the pigeons.