Uefa's centralised rights bid suffers a setback
Uefa’s hopes of maximising broadcast revenues from its first centralised rights deal for international games suffered a setback yesterday when Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen advised that the European Court of Justice should reject a challenge to the right of governments to insist on entire tournaments being “free to air”.
The Court is not bound to follow the advice but almost always does in such cases, suggesting that the status quo will be maintained and the hand of broadcasters like RTÉ, BBC and ITV, which have traditionally broadcast live games from such tournaments, will be immeasurably strengthened ahead of next year’s auction of rights for Euro 2016.
RTÉ has already secured the rights to the next three World Cup finals tournaments in a deal brokered by the European Broadcasting Union that secures its position in relation to the competition until 2022.
The situation in relation to the European championships has been complicated, however, by Uefa’s move to centralise rights and then market them in the manner that the Champions League has so successfully been sold in recent years.
In order to secure the rights itself, Uefa has guaranteed each participating association substantial payments with the FAI believed to have accepted an offer of roughly €40 million over four years. Larger associations, like those in Germany, England and Spain are reported to have secured vastly larger financial guarantees.
These exclude any payments for participation in the Euro 2016 finals. Each of the 16 associations that took part in Euro 2012 was guaranteed €8 million before performance-related bonuses.
Euro 2012 was still very profitable for Uefa, however, and while it will have to pay 24 participants in 2016 around its more pressing concern is to ensure that it can generate enough revenue to fund the wider deal.
With a large numbers of countries around Europe “listing” the home competitive matches of their own national teams, Uefa is believed to have resigned itself to working around such arrangements.
Its primary target in the case taken to Europe, meanwhile, was the decision of various EU member states to designate entire finals tournaments for “free to air” broadcasting with both the European federation and the game’s international governing body, Fifa, arguing that while there was a case to be made for games played by a particular national team to be freely accessible in that country and an argument to be made in relation to tournament semi-finals and finals, no reasonable basis for preventing the sale of games between other countries in the early and middle stages of a competition to subscription channels existed.
This was previously rejected by a lower European court which said that the tournaments must be treated as a single unit and yesterday’s recommendation by Jaaskinen has endorsed that view and so weakened the position of CAA Eleven, the division of US firm Creative Artists Agency hired in to sell its rights for the two qualifying campaigns as well as the 2016 finals over the next year.
Reports in September suggested that one French media body had offered to buy up all of the available rights for €1.2 billion with a view to selling them on. That figure would be regarded as a very healthy starting point to the process for Uefa.