U.K. Cable Giant Virgin Media Pushes for Probe of Soccer TV Rights Deals

Wayne Rooney Danny Welbeck - H 2014
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The company, part of John Malone's Liberty Global, says the costs have risen too much

Cable giant Virgin Media has asked British media watchdog Ofcom to investigate the rising cost of English Premier League soccer TV rights.

BSkyB currently has the rights to most games, with telecom giant BT airing the rest.

Amid debate about rising sports costs in the U.S. and elsewhere, Virgin Media, part of John Malone's Liberty Global, warned that continued increases in the cost of soccer TV rights pose a risk of "significant consumer harm," arguing that the next rights deal, expected to be struck next year, could come at a price tag another 60 percent higher than the current three-year deal, which was valued at $4.9 billion (£3 billion) and meant a 71 percent increase.

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Virgin Media has already said that it would not bid for English Premier League rights next year. But it has been paying wholesale prices to carry the Sky Sports and BT Sport networks, and those costs could benefit from any curbs on rights cost increases.

"The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means U.K. fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch" soccer on TV, Virgin said.

Ofcom said it would likely decide in the next two months whether it would investigate the issue, The Guardian reported. BSkyB currently airs 116 matches of the English league, with BT showing 38.

The lowest price for consumers to watch all the available TV matches in the U.K. came to $83 (£51), compared with $41 (£25) in Italy, $34 (£21) in Germany and $29 (£18) in Spain, Virgin Media said, according to The Guardian. BSkyB declined to comment.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai