On 8 April 2009, the United Kingdom’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport launched a public consultation on the designation of major national events as “listed events” that must be shown on free-to-air television. The Free-to-air Events Review Consultation seeks views on three main areas: the principle of having a list; the criteria against which events might be listed; and the content of the list itself, including whether any non-sporting events meet the criteria. The list was last revised in 1998 and currently includes only major sports events. The most significant potential change likely to come out of the review is therefore the possible inclusion of nonsporting events.

BACKGROUND

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2007/65/EC) lays down the framework conditions in which the public may be guaranteed free access to the broadcast of events of major importance to society. Article 3 of the Directive enables, but does not require, each Member State to draw up legislation designating events which it considers to be particularly important for society and which should be made available on free-to-air television to as much of the population as possible. This is implemented in the United Kingdom by Sections 97 to 104 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 and is supplemented by the Code of Sports and Other Listed Events and Designated Events originally drawn up by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and adopted by Ofcom. The events in the United Kingdom’s list are split into two groups. The current list is as follows

Group A (full live coverage protected)

  • The Olympic Games
  • The FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
  • The European Football Championships Finals Tournament
  • The FA Cup Final
  • The Scottish FA Cup Final (in Scotland)
  • The Grand National
  • The Derby
  • The Wimbledon tennis finals
  • The Rugby League Challenge Cup Final
  • The Rugby World Cup Final

Group B (Secondary coverage protected)

  • Cricket test matches played in England
  • Non-finals play in the Wimbledon Tournament
  • All other matches in the Rugby World Cup Finals Tournament
  • Six Nations Rugby Tournament matches involving home countries
  • The Commonwealth Games
  • The World Athletics Championship
  • The Cricket World Cup – final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations
  • The Ryder Cup
  • The Open Golf Championship.

SHOULD LISTING CONTINUE?

The consultation paper reminds us that there is no obligation to list events, it is an option for which Member States can avail themselves.

ARE THE CURRENT CRITERIA RIGHT?

In 1998, certain criteria were considered in compiling the list and the panel wants to know whether the essential criterion test should remain and, if not, what should replace it in a sporting context and what the essential criteria should be for nonsporting events, should they be included.

Having qualified under the essential criterion test, an event was more likely to be listed if it exhibited particular characteristics such as being likely to command a large television audience or having a history of being broadcast live on free-to-air television. The panel wants to know whether these characteristics remain appropriate.

The panel also seeks opinions on whether the list should remain divided in this way.

WHICH EVENTS SHOULD BE LISTED?

The options here are to maintain the status quo, move existing events between the A and B groups, add new events, or remove existing ones. The panel, however, is seeking views on whether specific tournaments should be listed in their entirety or only selected stages, events or matches involving national teams or representatives.

COMMENT

The panel will take into account responses to the consultation when putting together its recommendations to the Secretary of State as to what, if any, changes should be made to the United Kingdom’s current list. It is interesting to note that the panel is seeking views specifically on whether entire tournaments should be listed or just parts of them, as it has been suggested that the United Kingdom’s list contains an anomaly in that only the final of the Rugby World Cup is listed whereas the entire European Championship (football) is listed.

The sports rights market is increasingly competitive, none more so than football and the DCMS has already acknowledged that listing an event inevitably depresses the value of the rights in that event. There are countervailing benefits of increased sponsorship resulting from guaranteed live free-to-air coverage, although this is apparently becoming less significant as the increased rights on offer, including new media rights, maintain the value of events for large sponsors.

It will be interesting to see how the panel addresses the tension between the financial implications on the collective and specific markets for sports rights subject to statutory listing and political commitment to the concept of a sports event of “major importance for society”.