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Virgin Media calls for half time on Premier League rights auction

Virgin Media is urging Ofcom to put the Premier League TV rights bidding war, due to kick off next month, on hold. 

The telecoms regulator is already looking into the costs of sports packages following a complaint from Virgin. The cable company has argued that football rights for English Premier League games are the worst value for money in Europe. 

The combination of the price and the fact that 3:00pm Saturday games can’t be shown means that UK subscribers pay over the odds for less coverage compared to our French, German, Italian and Spanish cousins. 

Chief corporate affairs officer for Virgin Media Brigitte Trafford said: “The Premier League has pushed ahead with its early sale of TV rights despite Ofcom’s investigation. 

“With 18 months until those deals begin, there is plenty of time for Ofcom to pause the auction process while it completes its inquiries. Failure to do so will leave fans, who already pay the most to see the least amount of football in Europe, facing yet another big rise in the cost of watching live football on TV.”

Virgin Media says that Ofcom is within its power to impose a temporary halt on broadcast rights auctions under the Competition Act 1998 to “prevent significant damage to a particular person or category of person.” In this case, Virgin is arguing that it’s the fans, or rather their wallets, sustaining the damage. 

Managing director of Sky Sports Barney Francis said that Sky had invested heavily in live sports over the years, arguing that football fans have never had it so good. 

“There are some who argue that sport being broadcast on pay TV leads to declining public interest. There is no better example to disprove this theory than the Ryder Cup, which has grown to become one of the world’s biggest sporting events and yet has not been covered live on free-to-air TV for more than two decades.

“When Jamie Donaldson secured the winning point at Gleneagles last September, it was the crowning moment of two weeks’ commitment from Sky Sports. Over 4 million viewers enjoyed a dedicated TV channel and over 5 million accessed our multi-platform coverage.”

Francis also pointed out that since Sky had begun broadcasting sports over 30 English football clubs had been able to renovate or rebuild their stadiums and that you can currently get a Sky Sports pass on Now TV for as little as £6.99/day. 

Sky TV customers pay £24.50/month on top of their subscription for 24/7 access to all Sky Sports channels or £13/month for Sky Sports 1, where the majority of Premier League games are broadcast. Virgin Media customers can pay £17/month for Sky Sports on top of their TV package or £27.25/month for all Sky Sports channels. 

Ofcom’s investigation into Premier League costs is still ongoing. The regulator is expected to issue an update in March. 

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