CAMPAIGNS: Premier League scores a TV goal - Sport PR

When the Premier League was formed in 1992, it negotiated a television package on behalf of its 20 members, giving BSkyB ’live and exclusive’ coverage of football matches and the BBC’s Match of The Day sole rights to recorded highlights.

When the Premier League was formed in 1992, it negotiated a

television package on behalf of its 20 members, giving BSkyB ’live and

exclusive’ coverage of football matches and the BBC’s Match of The Day

sole rights to recorded highlights.



In 1996, when the Premiership renewed this joint deal until 2001 for

pounds 743 million, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) stepped in. It

argued that by selling collectively through the Premier League, clubs

were acting as an unlawful cartel and the exclusive nature of TV

contracts was against the public interest. On 12 January 1999, the OFT

presented its case to the Restrictive Practices Court.



Objectives



Within the restraints of an ongoing legal case, the Premier League’s

retained agency Westminster Strategy (WS) wanted to provide public

pressure to demonstrate that the OFT was wrong in its accusations of an

anti-competitive monopoly and quash any rulings against current TV

arrangements.



Strategy and Plan



In principal, the OFT had a fair case. The Premiership clubs were able

to flex their collective muscle to limit Sky from screening more than 60

of the football season’s 380 Premier League games and limit highlights

to the BBC only.



However, WS wanted to highlight that while the 1976 Restrictive Trade

Practices Act under which the case was brought could be applied to

business, the legislation did not fit the more complicated situation of

the nation’s favourite sport.



From December, WS outlined to journalists that if, as the OFT wanted,

each football club individually negotiated TV rights, there would be

chaos with clashing interests and timings. In addition, teams such as

Coventry and Wimbledon, which have relatively low fan bases, would be

left out in the cold, while the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal

would become even more financially dominant. Also discussed was the

limiting of live match coverage to protect live attendance of games and

the pounds 17.5 million of TV money a year which goes to support the

game outside the Premiership.



Of course, the PR team was unable to influence matters in the court

room, but in the course of the 47-day trial, they kept opinion-formers

and politicians up to speed. WS provided guidance on the arguments

supporting the Premiership’s position and notified the media of the

appearance of high profile witnesses, such as Chelsea FC chairman Ken

Bates.



Measurement and Evaluation



The ultimate yardstick for measuring this campaign was whether the OFT’s

case fell apart in court. However, the matter received considerable

media coverage from business, media and sports journalists. Radio 5 Live

in particular dedicated much air time to examining how the Premier

League’s current arrangements benefited all concerned, from fans to

grassroots football facilities.



In addition, Westminster Strategy gained the public support of bodies

including the Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association

and the various FA supporters’ groups.



Results



On 28 July, Mr Justice Ferris ruled that the current five-year deal

between the Premier League and BSkyB, plus the BBC should be upheld.

This was the first time the OFT had lost a case in the Restrictive

Practices Court in recent times and a coup for the Premiership’s legal

team organised by Denton Hall.



Westminster Strategy worked closely with the lawyers to put together a

very successful public affairs and media campaign.



Client: The FA Carling Premiership

PR Team: Westminster Strategy

Campaign: Defence of the Premier League’s TV contracts with BSkyB and

the BBC

Timescale: December 1998 to July 1999

Budget: undisclosed



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