Football bodies FIFA and UEFA have appealed against a European ruling that World Cup and European Championships Finals must be broadcast on free-to-air TV in the UK.
In February, the European General Court said that the UK could keep the events on a list of “protected” events of national sporting interest to be shown for free. But football’s rulers will now go to the European Court of Justice, arguing that they cannot sell the events fairly.
European court processes tend to be lengthy and the case is unlikely to be heard for at least a year. The BBC and ITV have already secured the rights to broadcast the football World Cup finals in 2014, so even if the case is won it would apply to the European finals in 2016 at the earliest.
“The grounds of appeal open to UEFA and FIFA appear to be relatively limited,” said Daniel Geey, an expert on TV rights deals at Field Fisher Waterhouse solicitors. And the prevailing view seems to be that Sepp Blatter and co will lose out in the end.
“UEFA and FIFA are now in injury time if they are to pull off a last minute winner,” said Geey. “Although not inconceivable, the odds of snatching victory appear to be stacked against football’s two most powerful football bodies.”
FIFA and EUFA are arguing that they should have the commercial freedom to sell matches to anyone they choose and that pay TV companies like Sky should be allowed to bid. They also argue that a wider range of bidders would lead to a higher income, giving more money to reinvest into football.
FIFA earned a minimum of $2bn in TV and media rights deals for the South Africa 2010 World Cup. And UEFA said that turnover during the three-week Euro 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland was $2.04bn, with more than half the cash coming from the sale of broadcasting rights.
Football is big business and television companies pay massive sums for the top games. But fans want to see as many matches as possible come the finals of the big tournaments and most will be hoping that they can continue to do so without paying extra for subscriptions.