Football fans could face spiralling TV charges unless the Premier League football rights auctions are changed, Virgin Media has warned.
The broadband and TV operator has asked communications regulator Ofcom to investigate the way the FA Premier League sells TV rights to broadcasters.
The TV rights for the 2016-2018 seasons will be auctioned next year, and Virgin predicts the final price could be 60 per cent higher than the £3 billion paid for the 2013-2015 games.
Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s chief corporate affairs officer, said: “The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means UK fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch football on TV.
“Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to investigate how the rights are sold ahead of the next auction.”
English Premier League auction rights were changed in 2006 by the European Commission to make sure that no single TV provider could acquire every match on TV.
The arrival of BT on the market from 2013 saw the cost of TV rights shoot up by 70 per cent, while Virgin now has to pay both BT and Sky to get all of the televised games.
The last auction, in 2012, saw BT win two of the six packages of Premier League games, while Sky won the rest, with the average cost per match reaching around £7m.
Virgin’s prediction from financial analysts Oxera suggests the next round will be significantly higher if BT follows through on hints it wants to reverse the balance.
Football fans face a dizzying combination of Sky and BT Sport packages across BT TV, Now TV, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, which Virgin claims is the most expensive in Europe.
The cheapest way to get all Premier League games is on Sky at £58/month, with Virgin close behind at £58.50/month and BT costing £64.49/month.
The English Premier League is the most expensive top-tier league in Europe, compared to as little as £10/month in France and £18/month for Spain and £25/month for Italy.
It’s also the worst value because of the 3pm Saturday ‘blackout’ imposed to protect attendances at football grounds when the Premier League was set up in 1992.
Just 41 per cent of all English Premier League matches are shown live, compared to 100 per cent in Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
Attendances are generally strong, yet ticket prices have also skyrocketed along with player wages, and many Premier League clubs still face financial struggles.
The Premier League said: “Live Premier League audio-visual rights have always been sold in a transparent and open process.
“Regulators have examined our rights packaging and sales process in considerable detail in the past and found both of them to be compliant with UK and European competition law.
“If Ofcom chooses to investigate this complaint, we will of course be happy to demonstrate to Ofcom that this is the case.”
Virgin’s complaint with Ofcom was filed in mid-September, and a decision is expected by early November.
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