In what could be a major blow to the FA Premier League and its live broadcasters Sky and ESPN, Advocate General Julianne Kokott says the use of decoder cards should not be restricted to one country within the EU, as this would "partition the internal market" – against the ethos of the European Union.
“The marketing of broadcasting rights on the basis of territorial exclusivity is tantamount to profiting from the elimination of the internal market,” she said.
“Consequently, the specific subject-matter of the rights in the transmission of football matches does not justify a partitioning of the internal market, and thus also does not justify the resulting restriction of the freedom to provide services.”
The news could have huge ramifications on UK football. Premier League matches are broadcast live in several countries but not in the UK during a Saturday-afternoon window, in order to protect attendance figures at grounds throughout the league pyramid.
These foreign broadcasts are easily obtainable via satellite and several pubs openly flout the ruling. Hampshire publican Karen Murphy is currently in court fighting the ruling, and it is from this case that the latest developments have emerged.
The statement is "not binding on the Court of Justice" and the ECJ judges will now retire to consider their own verdicts on the case. They are expected to give their ruling later this year, at which point the UK High Court will discuss how to incorporate the European ruling.
The Premier League will release a statement later today and are expected to fight any overturning of the current ruling. However, the biggest effects could be felt further down the leagues, with attendances facing a severe threat from the presence of live top-flight football in pubs.
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