FIFA/UEFA Lose Out in EU Ruling, WC/Euros Remain Free-to-Air

February 17, 2011

A European Union (EU) court have ruled that governing bodies are not permitted to strike exclusive pay-TV deals for games in the UK and Belgium. The decision means that soccer fans will be able to continue to watch free footage of the World Cup and European Championships after FIFA and UEFA both lost court respective court appeals.

The appeals came from soccer’s global and European governing bodies after the EU allowed nations to make the flagship tournaments in question available for free-access to anyone with a TV set.

The EU General Court ruled that Government restrictions are “justified” to “ensure wide public access to television broadcasts of those events. Recent statistics show that the system in Belgium and the U.K. to show the World Cup only for free drew many viewers, “a significant proportion of whom are not usually interested in football.”

Today’s decision echoes a non-binding opinion by an adviser to the EU’s top court earlier this month in a case involving the Premier League to restrict exclusive broadcasting agreements for soccer matches. A ruling in FIFA’s favor could have ended decades of tradition in the U.K., where the World Cup, the most- watched sporting event, must by law be broadcast solely on free- to-air television.