The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently made a ruling on broadcasting rights for sporting events that could have serious effects on minority sports across Europe, including cricket.
At the moment broadcasting rights for sport in Europe are sold on a ‘territorial’ (country by country) basis. They are also sold on an ‘exclusive’ basis, which means that only one broadcaster in each country is allowed to broadcast the event. Understandably the rights are sold at different prices in each territory since, for instance, Greek broadcasters are unlikely to pay as much for English football as British ones. The system works using ‘decoder cards’ which, once a subscription is paid to your territories service provider, allows you to access their channels through a satellite dish.
What has happened in this instance is that a British publican has used a Greek ‘decoder card’ to access Premier League games for far less than they would have to pay for subscription to a British provider. The Premier League has brought a case against them as they believe that this infringes their right to sell their product on a country by country basis. The ECJ has ruled that this ‘territorial exclusivity’ goes against the principles of the European Single Market and that decoder cards can be legally traded across member state boundaries. So the victory goes to the pub owner.
Now you are unlikely to hear me standing up for the rights of the megalithic Premier League or BSkyB, they are big enough and tough enough to do that for themselves. I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of such a big organisation with limitless resources suing an independent pub owner. Having said that, this ruling, in my opinion, does no one any good at all.
It would mean less money for all sports who sell their broadcasting rights. If there are no ‘exclusive’ rights, then broadcasters would pay far less money. It would mean a significant loss of cultural diversity, if there are no ‘territorial’ restrictions then you could have a ‘one-size fits all’ European system. Big sports could still sell on a big ‘European’ system (football is popular everywhere). But smaller sports such as ski-jumping, cricket, curling, or cycling, would not be able to make enough money from selling to the whole of Europe. Smaller broadcasters would not be able to afford the cost of ‘European’ rights. They would not be able to compete, which would mean a monopolistic advantage for the biggest broadcasters in Europe.
So we could see cricket losing a lot its money, similarly handball in France and the Scandinavian countries. This would be bad for sport and bad cultural diversity.