Tom Mockridge, the head of Virgin Media, has called on the Premier League to allow all 380 matches per season to be broadcast live on television.
Although Mockridge does not expect the media regulator Ofcom to dismiss the Premier League’s existing deals, he said he would welcome such changes to the next contract, starting in the 2019-20 season.
Virgin has filed a complaint with Ofcom arguing that by making only 41 per cent of all matches available to broadcasters, the Premier League is keeping prices artificially high and restricting choice to consumers.
The Premier League, in an 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 European countries such as Germany, and in major US sports leagues such as the NBA and the NFL, 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 per cent 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 £5.1 billion – an 80 per cent 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 per cent of the games on TV?”
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.