Virgin Media calls on Premier League to allow live broadcast of all matches

The Virgin Media chief executive, Tom Mockridge, would like the Premier League to consider regional TV blackouts to enable the showing of live 3pm kick-offs. Photograph: Peter
The head of Virgin Media, Tom Mockridge, has called on the Premier League to consider introducing US-style regional blackouts to enable it to show all 380 matches live on television.
The pay-TV company has also made it plain it does not expect the media regulator Ofcom to rip up the Premier League’s existing deals, expected to bring in more than £8.5bn, but that any changes should apply to the next contract, starting in the 2019-20 season.
Virgin has filed a complaint with the regulator arguing that by making only 41% of all matches available to broadcasters, the Premier League is keeping prices artificially high and restricting choice to consumers.
The Premier League, in unusual alignment with the Football Supporters’ Federation on the issue, argues that it is necessary to protect the 3pm blackout window on a Saturday to safeguard attendance in lower league football.
In other countries such as Germany, and with other leagues such as the NBA and the NFL in the US, it is common for fans to be able to watch all games or purchase a pass that allows them to follow their team.
Mockridge said the move was necessary to curb continuing inflation in the cost of live rights that was hurting consumers. He said 77% of Virgin customers, around a third of whom subscribe to BT Sport and Sky Sports, thought that sports channels were now too expensive.
Arguing the provisions had created a “nanny state”, Mockridge said: “Consumers are entitled to make their own choices rather than have other people make them for them.”
Under the three-year contract that begins next season, Sky and BT will pay £5.1bn – an 80% increase on the current deal.
Mockridge said making all matches available live may not bring the overall cost down but would act as a brake on inflation and allow fans more choice. He said the rules in the UK were an anachronism compared with the US and the rest of Europe.
“The Premier League argues there is a consumer benefit in limiting the number of matches. We would argue the opposite,” said Mockridge. “I am not criticising the Premier League. Richard Scudamore has done a terrific job for them but it’s up to Ofcom to act as the referee. Their primary aim is to protect the consumer. What is the consumer benefit in showing only 40% of the games on TV?”
Lower league clubs and their fans have traditionally lobbied against dropping the 3pm blackout for fear it would hit attendances. Mockridge suggested that, if they were given a greater proportion of the Premier League’s television money and protected by technology that would stop fans in Manchester watching Manchester United instead of Bury, they may feel differently.
Such a system works for the NFL in the US and, while Mockridge accepted there were cultural and geographical differences in the UK, he said the idea should be considered for those games that kick off at 3pm on a Saturday and are not shown on TV.
While it is unclear whether the idea would translate to the UK – where the unintended consequence may be that supporters of Manchester United could end up travelling to Liverpool to watch their side on television – Mockridge said the technology existed and was worth exploring.
The media regulator Ofcom has been looking into Virgin’s complaint for more than a year and is conducting a detailed review. There is no timescale for a decision but Ofcom has said the review could take up to two years in total.