As was discussed on this blog, the rights to broadcast live Premier League football matches in the UK were recently auctioned off for a staggering £1.7bn per season. In the Premier League all of the clubs join forces to sell the rights collectively.
On the face of it, this collective selling would appear to be a potential breach of competition laws that prevents agreements between firms. However, despite some concerns and complaints, collective selling of football TV rights has been allowed, firstly because it is argued that it results in a more equal distribution of income amongst clubs, thus enhancing competitive balance and resulting in a more attractive product for the fans; secondly, because some of the revenue raised is redistributed down the football pyramid to lower league clubs.
In contrast to the Premier League, in Spain the clubs have traditionally sold their rights individually. This has been regarded as a significant advantage for the Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
For the 2013–14 season in total clubs in the top division in Spain earned substantially less than their counterparts in England. However, Barcelona and Real Madrid earned around 1/3 of the total and more than any club in England, whereas the league winners that year, Atletico Madrid, earned only around half that of Cardiff City which finished bottom of the Premier League. Despite this, it is interesting to note that, at least in terms of league winners, the Spanish league has been more competitive than the German league despite the rights being sold collectively in the latter.
However, the way in which the rights are sold in Spain may be about to change. A few weeks ago, following pressure from the majority of clubs, the Spanish government approved a law that will introduce collective selling. The sport ministry spokesman described this change as allowing Spanish football to ‘adopt to modern times’.
It has been reported that there is a clause in the legislation that guarantees all clubs an increase in revenues above what they currently earn from selling their TV rights individually. This may have been essential to persuade the larger clubs, in particular Barcelona and Real Madrid, to support the new legislation.
The change in legislation still needs to be cleared by the Spanish parliament and there has been a threat of strike action. It is also unclear how the clause described above might affect the standing of the collective agreement under competition law.
Assuming the change does go ahead, it will be interesting to see how much the subsequent collective sale of TV rights raises. One estimate suggests a significant increase, but still much less than in the Premier League. Even more fascinating will be in the longer term to see what knock-on effect this has on the degree of competitive balance in the league.
Barcelona back collective TV rights in La Liga City a.m., Joe Hall (04/08/14)
Is the balance of power in Spain’s La Liga set to change after historic TV rights change Sport.co.uk, Jason King (02/05/15)
Court suspends Spanish football strike Financial Times, Tobias Buck (14/05/15)
- Why does competition policy typically prohibit agreements between firms?
- Do you think collective selling will always have a significant effect on the degree of competitive balance in a sports league? What other factors are likely to be important?
- Assuming the new legislation goes ahead, how do you think Spanish football will change?
- Can you think of any other situations where agreements between firms may be beneficial?