Sky may lose out in Pub TV football case

Steve Dinneen
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THE Premier League’s battle with a Portsmouth-based publican suffered a major setback yesterday.

A senior advocate from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) threw her weight behind landlady Karen Murphy in a landmark case, paving the way for a decision that could change the landscape of sports distribution rights in Europe and cost Sky £70m a year.

Football’s governing body had attempted to clamp down on Murphy after it discovered she was using a Greek TV decoder to screen matches in The Red, White and Blue pub.

Murphy fought the case, arguing that restricting broadcast rights to a single territory contravened European trade laws. Yesterday the advocate general in Europe’s highest court gave her opinion that Murphy was within her rights to use the foreign decoder.

Juliane Kokott’s position does not guarantee the ruling will go against the Premier League – but the advocate general’s opinion can be indicative of the court’s thinking.

An ECJ judge will make a final ruling in several month’s time.

If the ruling goes in Murphy’s favour, rights holders including the Premier League and movie studios would be forced to negotiate a single deal across Europe.

Analysts estimate Sky could lose around £70m of the £200m it generates through pub licences for sport. Sky declined to comment yesterday.

A Premier League spokesman said: “We would hope that when the ECJ comes to its judgement the current European law, framed to help promote, celebrate and develop the cultural differences within the EU, is upheld. Broadcasters’ clear preference is to acquire exclusive rights within their own territory only and to use those rights to create services which satisfy the cultural preferences of their viewers.”

Graham Shear, legal partner with BLP, said: “There is still a long way to go, but the pub industry can consider itself ahead at half time. If they do rule in favour of Murphy, it will signal the end of the multi-million pound country-specific broadcasting deals that have made the English game so rich.”