London (United Kingdom) (AFP) – US media giant Fox and Dutch broadcaster Ziggo Sport said Wednesday they were cooperating with EU anti-trust officials after unannounced searches of their offices as part of a probe into sports media rights.
The office of Fox Networks Group, which operates 21st Century Fox’s global television network, in west London was raided by European Commission officials over competition concerns.
“Fox Networks Group (FNG) is cooperating fully with the EC inspection,” a company spokesman told AFP.
Ziggo Sport, part of a Dutch joint venture owned by the British Vodafone Group and US Liberty Global, declined to say where and when the searches on its premises took place.
“Ziggo Sport is fully co-operating with the European Commission’s inspection and are unable to comment further at this stage,” Ziggo spokesperson Alexis van Liebergen told AFP.
The European Commission said it carried out inspections in several EU countries of companies working in media rights related to sports events and their broadcasting.
“The Commission has concerns that the companies involved may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices,” the EU’s executive branch said in a statement.
“Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practices,” the Commission added, noting raids did not mean companies were guilty of breaking competition rules.
The EU did not detail which firms or countries were involved, or specify the nature of the probe.
Inspectors are believed to have seized documents and computer records at the FNG office and are due to return on Wednesday and possibly Thursday, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.
Sports broadcasting has become a multi-billion dollar business across the world, with big television networks vying for exclusive rights to show live games.
– ‘No legal deadline’ –
Football in particular attracts the big spenders. The bulk of rights to show English Premier League matches in February sold for £4.46 billion ($6.16 billion), with more games still up for grabs.
Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is currently grappling with the UK’s competition authority over plans to buy the 61 percent of British pay TV giant Sky that it does not already own.
Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regulator provisionally ruled earlier this year that Murdoch’s planned takeover was not in the public interest and that a deal would hand him too much power in swaying public opinion.
Fox has responded by proposing the sale of TV channel Sky News to Disney, while also offering to ring-fence the 24-hour news channel instead.
The CMA is conducting a review and is due to submit a final report to the British government on May 1. Britain’s Culture Secretary Matt Hancock will then issue his verdict.
Ziggo Sport broadcasts in the Netherlands British Premier League football and the Spanish La Liga as well as Formula One.
It also holds the rights to broadcast golf, basketball and other sports. Fox is its main competitor in premium Dutch sports, offering Eredivisie, the main Dutch football league.
The European Commission said there is “no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct”, with the duration of the probes dependent on factors including the complexity of the case and cooperation from those involved.