Ofcom has today opened an investigation into how the Premier League sells live UK audio-visual media rights for Premier League football matches.
The investigation will be carried out under the Competition Act and follows a complaint from Virgin Media, which was submitted to Ofcom in September.
As set out in section 25 of the Competition Act, Ofcom may conduct an investigation where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is an agreement which has as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the UK and/or the EU.
Ofcom will consider whether there is a breach of the UK and/or EU competition law prohibition on agreements and decisions which restrict or distort competition.
In the initial phase of the investigation, Ofcom expects to gather further information using its powers under the Competition Act.
The initial analysis of this information will help inform Ofcom's view on whether and how to proceed further with the investigation.
This case is at an early stage and Ofcom has not reached a view as to whether there is sufficient evidence of an infringement of competition law for it to issue a statement of objections. Not all cases result in Ofcom issuing a statement of objections. As a result, there are not currently any further estimates of the timing of any later investigative steps.
Virgin Media's complaint alleges that the arrangements for the 'collective' selling of live UK television rights by the Premier League for matches played by its member clubs is in breach of competition law.
In particular, the complaint raises concerns about the number of Premier League matches for which live broadcasting rights are made available.
Virgin Media argues that the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast under the current Premier League rights deals - at 41% - is lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are available for live television broadcast.
The complaint alleges that this contributes to higher prices for consumers of pay TV packages that include premium sport channels and for the pay TV retailers of premium sports channels.
Ofcom is mindful of the likely timing of the next auction of live UK audio-visual media rights, and is open to discussion with the Premier League about its plans.
Ofcom understands that the scheduling of football games is important to many football fans, in particular attending 3pm kick-offs on Saturdays. The investigation will take this into account and Ofcom plans to approach the Football Supporters' Federation and certain other supporters' groups to understand their views.
Notice of the investigation can be found in Ofcom's Competition Bulletin.