Premier League, UFC Rights Holders Raided in EU TV Investigation

(Bloomberg) -- European antitrust officials are focusing on the way major sports events are broadcast after IMG, which owns Premier League rights in Eastern Europe, revealed it was under investigation alongside Fox Networks and Ziggo Sport.

IMG, owned by Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, became the latest rights distributor to confirm that European Union officials raided the company. Sports agency MP & Silva, controlled by a Chinese investment group, was also inspected, the Guardian reported.

Regulators carried out raids in several EU countries at companies including Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Networks Group in the U.K. and Ziggo in the Netherlands. The April 10 raids related to broadcasting rights for various sports events, the European Commission said. The moves are likely an offshoot of a long-running EU probe into pay-TV rights that is zeroing in on the distribution agreements that prevent people from watching sports or films outside the country in which they’re sold.

Antitrust raids by EU regulators are a first step in investigating suspected violations and don’t signal guilt, the commission said. IMG was the subject of "an onsite inspection" and is cooperating with the commission, a spokesman for the company said in an emailed statement. A spokesman for MP & Silva declined to comment.

IMG holds rights to many of the biggest sports events including the English and Italian soccer leagues as well as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The EU is pushing rights holders and broadcasters to remove controls that block people from streaming sports or other content outside their home country. The issue, which dates back over a decade, came to the forefront with a European ruling in 2011, upheld in the U.K., that cleared the way for a pub manager from Portsmouth to use a Greek decoder card to show English soccer matches. The commission is also targeting online shopping to allow buyers to purchase products at the same prices regardless of where they are located.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.