Complaint about the joint selling of national radio broadcast rights to Football Association Challenge Cup ("FA Cup") matches by the Football Association to a single purchaser

20 October 2005

Complainant: The Wireless Group plc (the "Wireless Group")
Complaint against: The Football Association (the "FA") and the British Broadcasting Corporation (the "BBC")
Case opened: 17 December 2004
Case closed: 19 October 2005
Issue: It was alleged by the Wireless Group that an agreement between the FA and the BBC regarding the sale of national radio broadcast rights to FA Cup matches was contrary to Article 81 of the EC Treaty and/or Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998.
Relevant instruments: Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 (anti-competitive agreements) and Article 81 of the EC Treaty

The current arrangements for the selling of the national radio broadcast rights for FA Cup matches result in a maximum seven matches per round (excluding replays) being broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live and Five Live Sports Extra.

Ofcom has considered whether demand for further FA Cup matches exists from other national broadcasters and further evidence obtained in September 2005 indicated only limited interest in the currently unsold rights and that a low value is placed on these games.

Ofcom has also noted that the current FA Premier League rights investigation by the European Commission includes an examination of issues raised by the scope of any exclusivity granted to the BBC, which are very similar to the issues in this case.

For these reasons, Ofcom does not propose to allocate further resources to a detailed examination of this complaint at present and has therefore closed the case.

Case Leader: Martin Hill ( e-mail: Martin.Hill@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/00790/09/04

Text published when the case was opened

Complaint about the joint selling of national radio broadcast rights to Football Association Challenge Cup ("FA Cup") matches by the Football Association to a single purchaser

Complainant: The Wireless Group plc (the "Wireless Group")
Complaint against: The Football Association (the "FA") and the British Broadcasting Corporation (the "BBC")
Case opened: 17 December 2004
Issue: It is alleged by the Wireless Group that an agreement between the FA and the BBC regarding the sale of national radio broadcast rights to FA Cup matches is contrary to Article 81 of the EC Treaty and/or Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998.
Relevant instruments: Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 (anti-competitive agreements) and Article 81 of the EC Treaty

Under the agreement controlling each individual football club's participation in the FA Cup, the FA has the exclusive right to sell the national and local radio broadcast rights in respect of matches for each and every participating club.

Local radio rights for FA Cup matches are currently sold, via the clubs, to BBC local radio stations and commercial radio stations licensed by Independent Radio News ("IRN"). These arrangements do not form part of the Wireless Group's complaint.

On 27 April 2004, the FA invited tenders in respect of a number of packages of rights to broadcast live national radio commentaries to FA Cup matches for the seasons 2004/05 to 2007/08, with bids invited for either individual packages or for all rights in a 'global' bid. The national radio broadcast rights to a total of four FA Cup matches per round were offered for sale in the original tender.

At the outcome of the tender, the BBC was successful in its bid for all the FA Cup radio rights packages on offer by the FA.

The Wireless Group has submitted a complaint that:

(i) the agreements between the FA and individual clubs are anti-competitive in that they prevent individual clubs from offering for sale on a national basis the radio rights to matches in which they participate;
(ii) as the only supplier of broadcast rights, the FA is able artificially to fix prices and create a high barrier to market entry;
(iii) by offering for sale only four matches per round the FA is restricting supply;
(iv) the exclusive sale of national broadcast rights to the BBC prevents competition in radio broadcasting markets for four years; and
(v) the agreement regarding the sale of rights with the BBC has the effect of unnecessarily tying the purchase of the rights to unrelated individual matches to one another.

Ofcom has considered the Wireless Group's complaint and has held initial exploratory discussions with the Wireless Group, the FA and the BBC.

On the basis of a preliminary examination of the complaint and subsequent discussions, Ofcom has concluded that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Article 81 of the EC Treaty and/or Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 may have been infringed. Ofcom therefore believes that it is appropriate for it to formally investigate the substance of the issues raised.

Case Leader: Martin Hill ( e-mail: Martin.Hill@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/00790/09/04