UK football fans can watch cheap foreign satellite, rules European court

British viewers will be allowed to buy foreign sports feeds – but will they get to watch more games?

A European ruling will make it legal for Premier League football fans to buy in cheaper foreign satellite coverage of games.

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In a landmark decision, the European Court of Justice says that the Premier League, who supplies Sky, ESPN and the BBC with its coverage packages, cannot legally stop customers from looking elsewhere for better deals, since to do so would be against European trade principles.

“National legislation which prohibits the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services,” said an ECJ statement.

“[It] cannot be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums.”

The ruling comes following an attempt by Portsmouth landlady Karen Murphy to win the right to show Premier League games via Greek satellite in her pub, The Red, White and Blue.

But while home viewing of foreign feeds is allowed under the ruling, the ECJ has ruled against Brady on the basis that showing games to the public is in breach of copyright. Logos, graphics, music and edited highlights featured in coverage belong to the Premier League, so showing them without permission is against the law.

A key question many Premier League fans will be asking is “Will I be able to see games I couldn’t before?” Under the current agreement between the Premier League and broadcasters, games that kick off at 3pm (which constitute the majority of fixtures) aren’t shown in this country – but they are sold abroad.

While saving a few quid compared with a Sky subscription might not balance out against the hassle of getting hold of a foreign decoder card from an overseas supplier, being able to watch more games could well be enough of an incentive for many viewers.

The restrictions in the UK are in place to help ensure better attendance at matches. If people can watch at home, goes the argument, stadiums will be half empty. The agreement is supported by the British government and the European Union but the wording in the ECJ statement suggests foreign broadcasters will continue to be able to get round it when supplying to British customers.

Prohibiting the sale of foreign decoders “cannot be justified… by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums,” says the statement.

It sounds like good news for fans who want to watch more football – but would it be a win in the long term? Among methods the Premier League, Sky and co might use to protect their assets could be cutting back on the number of matches they sell in the EU, meaning viewers could end up seeing less games.

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The Premier League is yet to make a statement but at this stage it looks like it’s 1-1, with plenty left to play for.