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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
EU closer to Premier League move
Action from Saturday's match between Middlesbrough and Arsenal
Sky currently has sole right to show live Premier League games
The European Commission is getting closer to ending the English Premier League's exclusive live broadcast contract with satellite company Sky.

At present Sky has the sole right to air live Premier League games, but the Commission wants to open this up to rival broadcasters from 2007.

A Commission spokesman said it was "weeks away" from publishing its official statement of objections.

This could also result in the league being fined under competition laws.

In such circumstances the Commission has the power to impose a penalty of as much as 10% of a company's annual turnover.

Long-running dispute

"We were intending to send the statement of objections in the next few weeks," said Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd.

Premier League v European Commission
2001 - EC probe into sale of Premier League media rights
2002 - EU charges league with breaking competition law
August 2003 - Sky wins four tiered live rights packages
August 2003 - EC unhappy and says League has 'serious questions' to answer
2005 - EC expresses its concerns about distribution of rights in 2007

Brussels has long called for the Premier League to open up live games to more than one broadcaster, with the first Commission probe launched in 2001.

No-one from the Premier League was initially available for comment, while a Sky spokesman said it was solely a matter for the Premier League and the Commission.

Cable broadcaster NTL also has been calling for live Premier League coverage - which is worth millions of pounds a year - to be opened up.

"Two 50% packages would be the only way that we would be able to bid for the rights," said an NTL spokeswoman.

Theoretical exemption

The Premier League has so far agreed to make a limited number of live games available to broadcasters other than Sky, but European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes rejected such a proposal earlier this year.

Once the Commission has published its statement of objections, the Premier League will have the opportunity to respond, and can ask for a closed hearing on the matter.

The Commission could choose to exempt the Premier League from antitrust rules, but it must first decide there is a good reason to do so, such as a benefit to fans.

Premier League clubs have long argued that Sky's single contract guarantees the payments they need to continue to pay high players' wages.

They fear that sharing out the live coverage could see a reduction in broadcasting revenues.


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