Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

All Sports for Free! A Difficult Match? Right to Information in the Digital Broadcasting Era

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

All Sports for Free! A Difficult Match? Right to Information in the Digital Broadcasting Era

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Needless to say that sport fulfils a vital function in our society. As the European Commission argues in its white paper on sport, "sport is a growing social and economic phenomenon which makes an important contribution to the European Union's strategic objectives of solidarity and prosperity". (1) According to the famous Latin saying "mens sana in corpore sano", sports contribute to the physical and psychological wellness of the people. Moreover, sports hold an enormous potential for community building regardless of age or race by fighting against racism and violence and by promoting volunteering and active citizenship. But more than ever, sports have developed into a dynamic global business environment. Broadly defined, sports' macro-economic impact in the European Union is estimated at 407 billion Euros, accounting for 4.58% of EU GDP. (2) This economic value of sports is exemplified by the top wages sports stars earn and especially by the multibillion dollar broadcasting rights contracts, which have played a major role in the establishment of professional sports and the media sport content economy.

The exploding broadcasting rights marketplace is considered one of the driving forces behind this fast-growing share of sports within the European economy. In today's hypercompetitive media climate, these sports rights have become increasingly important for broadcasters as well as platform operators to differentiate from other competitors. In this era of digital and mobile television platforms, live sports coverage has shifted from terrestrial and free-to-air (FTA) television towards digital premium television. For these new platforms, the acquisition of live sports rights became a competitive advantage to drive up subscription uptake and to reign supreme in the digital premium content marketplace. However, as these premium platforms including pay-television require an additional subscription payment, analogue households could be denied access to major sports events. Contrary to the United States, the European Commission has introduced the list of major events mechanism within its regulatory framework to guarantee access to these sports events and to safeguard the right to information of the public. This mechanism should allow Member States to assure free-to-air coverage of events of major interest for society. Although the European Commission claims that this major events mechanism is working satisfactorily, at least some critical assessments should be made.

Because issues on sports broadcasting rights have mainly been studied either from an economic or from a legal perspective, an interdisciplinary approach is handled in this article. As the transformation of the media ecosystem may affect the sale and application of media sports rights in a fundamental manner, the article kicks off with a political economy of the digital sports broadcasting market. In this section, the digitised value chain and the established synergy between sports and digital media are emphasised. Afterwards, the legal implications of exclusive sports coverage for major events with a national interest are critically explored with a specific focus on the Flemish legislation.

2. Digital sports broadcasting market

For decades, sports and the media, in particular broadcasting, have developed a self-interesting relationship allowing them to gain benefits from their complementary interests. Sports act as a pool for content and audience for broadcasters, which function as a revenue source and a promotion tool for sports. (3) This interdependence between sporting organisations, media companies and public society is often referred to as the sports/media complex. (4) This relationship originates from the end of the 18th century when newspapers began to cover sporting events. This clearly meant a win-win situation for both parties: sports coverage enabled newspapers to sell more copies and to attract manufacturers interested in advertising their products to these committed sports readers while sporting organisations gained benefits from this media exposure to drive up stadium attendance. …

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