Football not facing TV doomsday
UPDATE: 1130 GMT FRIDAY
I have been sent an interesting note this morning from an analyst at Citigroup, which argues the advice from the European Court's advocate general yesterday could be very good news for Sky.
By effectively outlawing territorial exclusivity and opening up the market in each European country to competition from cheaper foreign providers, the amount Sky would have to pay for UK rights would fall.
That's bad for football and the Premier League but Citigroup says there's potentially another upside for Rupert Murdoch and Sky.
By scrapping country-by-country deals, the likely effect is that the Premier League would then sell their rights in one pan-European deal. That would play into the hands of Sky, which is one of only a handful of broadcasters big enough across Europe to take advantage of such a deal.
Sky, the note adds, has been arguing for a pan-European pay-TV platform for some time so, once again, the Premier League could play a central part in the expansion of Murdoch's media empire.
Thursday's opinion from the advocate general of the European Court of Justice is not a doomsday moment for the Premier League.
But it was clearly a wake-up call which, if backed up by a ruling by judges later this year, threatens the way the richest league in the world currently markets its TV rights.
To briefly recap - a Portsmouth landlady called Karen Murphy has been contesting the League's crackdown on pubs who pay an annual subscription fee charged by Sky to televise live matches.
The League barred her from showing games broadcast via Greek satellite provider Nova for breach of copyright but she fought back, taking her case through the European courts.
And on Thursday, the advocate general of the ECJ, Juliane Kokott, weighed in on her side saying that, in her opinion, the way the League sold its rights on a territorial, country by country basis was incompatible with the internal market.
Or put another way, why should an English football fan be forced to buy his live English Premier League football from an English pay TV operator? Why not let the fan buy their games in from Greece, France or anywhere else in Europe if they fancied.
If Kokott's opinion is backed up by the judges from the European Court of Justice then that could have huge implications for the League's lucrative business model and potentially the timings of games.
If broadcasters like Sky lost their territorial exclusivity because of competition from European rivals then that could reduce the value of the exclusive deals Sky and ESPN have for live matches, currently worth almost £2billion over three years.
But even if the court ruling goes against the League it wouldn't necessarily mean less money for clubs. The League would probably just bundle all the European rights together and sell their 380 live games to one pan-continental broadcaster for a higher price.
At the moment European countries pay just £200m for live Premier League rights - mainly because most of the mature TV markets in Europe also have strong and popular domestic leagues.
It is Asia and the United States where the Premier League makes the vast majority of the £1.2bn it has negotiated as part of the current three-year overseas deal.
There is another potential impact and that's on the scheduling of games.
The League currently sells only 138 of its 380 live games per season to Sky and ESPN because it tries to restrict disruption to the traditional 3pm Saturday kick-offs. The fear is more televised games shown at 3pm would impact on attendances at clubs across the Premier and Football Leagues.
But all 380 of the League's live games are already sold to overseas broadcasters and if all matches, including those at 3pm on a Saturday, are allowed to be shown in the UK, then a tradition already under threat is likely to be damaged further.
Before the League's chief executive Richard Scudamore calls for the lawyers, it is worth remembering he has been here many times before over the last 12 years, and each time there has been a European challenge, the League seems to come up with a new plan for increasing revenue.
It is also worth noting that overseas TV rights are the growth area for the League and the top clubs, not domestic rights which have remained pretty steady for the last 10 years. It is Asia where the big money can be made.
Indeed, a bigger threat to the TV rights than overseas competition could come from illegal internet streaming, which is far harder to police.
So Thursday's European intervention is undoubtedly a potential setback for the League but, with a final decision potentially months if not years away, there is no need to start talking about football's age of austerity just yet.