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Joint Statement to the Director General of Fair Trading,
Against the BSkyB Take-Over of Manchester United

Monday 5 October 2020

Introduction

The following is a joint statement signed by nine individuals who include representatives of most of the leading organisations in football and who are all members of the Government's Football Task Force or Task Force Working Group. This should not be taken as an official statement by the Football Task Force, but it is wholly supported by the following members:

Graham Kelly, Chief Executive, Football Association (0171 262 4542)
Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive, Professional Footballers Association (0161 236 0575)
John Barnwell, League Managers Association (01926 882 313)
Graham Bean, Football Supporters Association (01226 717 580)
Ian Todd, National Federation of Football Suporters Clubs (0181 847 2905)
Colin Barclay, National Association of Disabled Supporters (01254 693 793)
Chris Heinitz, Local Government Association (01924 830 579)
Dr Rogan Taylor, Football Research Unit, University of Liverpool (0151 794 2401)
Dr Adam Brown, Manchester Institute for Popular Culture, Manchester Metropolitan University (0161 247 6580)

Whilst some of these people and organisations may have made submissions on behalf of their own organisations, it is strongly felt by those involved that a joint statement representing a such broad cross section of interest in the game, illustrates the great depth and strength of feeling against the BSkyB take-over of Manchester United. It has not been possible to make this statement earlier and we hope that you can still consider it in your deliberations as we feel that the interests of all in football are under threat by this take-over.

We are asking you to recommend to the Secretary of State that the take-over of Manchester United by BSkyB is refered to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on a number of grounds.

1.

Fair Competition

 

1.1

Football Competition

 

Football is a game, and an industry, which thrives on competition. The success of the product and the interest of the supporter (or consumer) is based upon the notion that success or failure is determined on the field of play. Thus, it has been possible in recent years for 'smaller' clubs such as Wimbledon to emerge from non-league football to compete at the highest level. The maintenance of such possibilities is essential to the future health of football and the interests of the vast majority of football fans. Recent years have already seen this eroded with a widening of the gap between the richer and poorer clubs, therefore reducing the ability of some clubs to compete. The importance of television income cannot be underestimated in this process.

 

The proposed take-over of by far the richest club in the game by the monopoly supplier of television income to football, would create an intolerable dominance of one club and make fair competition impossible. This would be totally against the interest of the fan as consumer.

 

1.2

Competition in Televised Football

 

There are also two concerns over the possibility of maintaining fair competition within televised football.

 

1.2.1

Conflict of Interest

 

There appears to be a clear conflict of interest in a situation where the existing monopoly supplier of live league football wholly owns the biggest club. In short, BSkyB will be sitting on both sides of the negotiating table. There are two possibilities here: i) that BSkyB will have secured a vote at the Premier League; and ii) that they will have carte blanche to set their own terms for the rights to televise Manchester United games, should clubs choose or be forced by the OFT, to negotiate individually. This threatens the interests of the television football consumer as well as for competition for television revenue between clubs.

 

1.2.2

Market Distortion

 

Further, a scenario which sees the major supplier of television football owning Europe's richest club, raises grave concerns that the market will be distorted.

 

2.

Independence

 

Football has until now been able to decide upon its future direction and development itself. The take-over would essentially mean that the football club would become a subsidiary of a television company, a change likely to be followed elsewhere. This will threaten the independence of the game and make it merely part of the broadcast and television industry. Thus, for the fan as consumer, decisions will be made in the interests of the profitability of television companies rather than in the interests of supplying a better football product at a better price to the fan.

 

3.

National Interest - A National Asset

 

Finally, we believe that football is a national asset. It is a game which has for over a century been a central part of national life: it is part of our culture; it helps form our identity and image; it contributes significantly to the UK economy. For the most profitable sections of the game to be sold to foreign-owned television companies threatens this position. It is an asset which needs protecting in the interests of the consumer and of the nation.

We urge you to refer this case to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

cc:

Peter Mandelson MP, Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

 

Tony Banks MP, Minister for Sport, Department of Culture, Media and Sport

 


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