FIFA/UEFA Fight Euro. Court Decision to Keep WC/Euros Free-to-Air in UK

May 12, 2011

World and European soccer governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA have appealed against a European ruling that the World Cup and Euro Championships must be on free-to-air TV in the UK after the European General Court said the UK could keep the events on a list of “protected” events of national sporting interest shown for free in February.

The ruling meant that the two tournaments cannot be sold exclusively to pay-TV firms though FIFA and UEFA say they cannot sell the events fairly, with the cases now moving to the European Court of Justice.

A spokesman for the European courts claimed that any actual hearing may not occur for up to year, revealing that appeals processes were currently taking up to one-and-a-half years from start to finish.

The BBC and ITV have once again secured the rights to broadcast the football World Cup finals in 2014 between them for the event staged in Brazil. This means that any potential change of broadcasting towards a future pay-TV model would not take place until the 2018 event in Russia which beat its competitors, including a last placed bid of England, in hosting the tournament last December.

FIFA has also launched a similar appeal against Belgium showing all World Cup games on free-to-air. However, the European courts decision would not affect World Cup finals games featuring England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remaining free to watch.

The argument is over other games featuring non-UK teams and whether they should also be shown for free in the UK.

Expert on TV rights deals at Field Fisher Waterhouse solicitors, Daniel Geey stated: “The grounds of appeal open to Uefa and Fifa appear to be relatively limited.”

He said the soccer bodies could only appeal on points of law – such as the General Court’s competence, or whether the court breached procedural steps or infringed European Union law.

“They cannot not simply repeat arguments that were already set out and heard by the General Court and expect the decision to be overturned,” Mr Geey added.

“UEFA and FIFA are now in injury time if they are to pull off a last minute winner.

“Although not inconceivable, the odds of snatching victory appear to be stacked against football’s two most powerful football bodies.”

FIFA and UEFA have argued that the current set-up interferes with their ability to sell television rights at the best price after FIFA earned a minimum of US$2bn in TV and media rights deals for the South Africa 2010 World Cup.

UEFA said turnover during the three-week Euro 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland was $2.04bn, with more than half the cash coming from the sale of broadcasting rights.