Sunday 22 April 2018

Virgin Media chief calls for Premier League TV restrictions to be changed

Premier League games played at 3pm on a Saturday are currently not allowed to be screened live
Premier League games played at 3pm on a Saturday are currently not allowed to be screened live

The prospect of every Premier League match being screened live but with 'regional blackouts' has been raised by the head of Virgin Media, the company at the centre of a competition complaint against the league.

Virgin Media's chief executive Tom Mockridge has proposed a system where for example viewers in the Manchester area could not watch Saturday 3pm live home games involving the city's clubs.

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom is investigating a complaint by Virgin Media which claims the way the Premier League sells its rights breaches competition law, though it may be another year before the outcome is known.

Mockridge says it is wrong that only 40 per cent of Premier League matches are shown live and that elsewhere in Europe every single match is available to be watched by television viewers.

He said the Premier League could follow the example of the NFL in the USA where regional blackouts operate to protect attendances. It is not clear however how easy it would be to operate such a system in a much smaller country - most US states are larger than England.

Mockridge said: "Would it not be better if the lower leagues had a greater share of the money rather than the benefit of this blackout? You could address the blackout in a geographic way - that's the system they use in the USA and it works very well.

"In Europe all games are available on TV. Should the Premier League be able to decide which games you watch from the comfort of your armchair or almost force you go out and watch? It is too much like a nanny state."

Mockridge also claims the Premier League could enjoy yet another huge rise in income from TV rights in the next round of negotiations for the 2019-2022 rights comparable to the 80 per cent rise seen for the £5.1billion domestic rights for 2016-19.

He insisted Virgin Media had no plans to rival Sky and BT Sport in bidding for Premier League matches but the company does pay both broadcasters to carry its channels on their platform.

The current rules prohibit live football being shown at 3pm on Saturdays in order to protect attendances at matches and also participation in games at grassroots level.

The Premier League would not comment, however it is understood its leaders believe making all matches available for live broadcast would affect attendances and damage the success of the league.

Press Association

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