European Court upholds UK list of “crown jewel” TV events

On 18 July the Court of Justice of the European Union (the “CJEU”) handed down its judgement in FIFA and UEFA’s on-going struggle around the listing of the World Cup and European Championships as free-to-air events.

Earlier this year we reported on the opinion of the Advocate General in the dispute, which recommended that FIFA and UEFA’s challenges against the European Commission, Britain and Belgium be dismissed. For our earlier reports please see here and here.

The UK and Belgium have traditionally broadcast all matches in the World Cup and European Championship tournaments through free-to-air broadcasters (the BBC and ITV in the UK), relying on OFCOM provisions which designate these tournaments as events of national importance or “crown jewels” to which the public should have access. FIFA and UEFA challenged this listing in the hope that they could extend their market for at least some of these matches (particularly those not involving the domestic national team) so that their potential purchasers could also include pay TV operators. FIFA and UEFA had claimed that listing all of the matches in the tournaments compromised their freedom to provide services, freedom of establishment, freedom of competition and the right to property.

In a press statement released by CJEU, it confirms however that any such compromise is outweighed by the public’s right to receive information. CJEU also confirmed that the European Commission was correct to carry out only a limited review of each Member State’s submitted list of important events and that the contents of those lists is a matter to be decided at Member State level.  Following the recommendations of Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen, delivered in December 2012, CJEU has dismissed FIFA and UEFA’s appeals.

Now that the UK has completed digital switchover Government is set to review its list of designated events and the approach to this issue – we’ll provide more detail as it is announced.