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Tackling monopolies Feb 5th 1998 Fans are paying more to watch sport every year Is it time for governments to intervene MONOPOLY in sport is suddenly a sensitive issue The escalating cost of watching games is pushing anti-trust authorities to examine the deals between sporting bodies and broadcasters Britains competition watchdog is scrutinising English football The European Commission now has several investigations under way into restrictive practices in European football and monopolistic behaviour in Formula One motor racing And an American court recently ruled that the National Basketball Association NBA could not prevent the Chicago Bulls selling rights to games that are not broadcast as part of the NBAs exclusive television deal Money is pouring into sport because viewers are willing to cough up a lot to watch it They pay for it in differentand mainly indirectways through taxes to finance public-service television through time spent watching additional advertising during matches broadcast on commercial networks in subscription fees to cable or satellite channels or directly on a pay-per-view basis But viewers are paying over the odds because sporting authorities are able to use their control over the supply of games to force up the price of TV rights Americas National Football League NFL is negotiating eight-year deals worth a total of 15 billion with several American TV networks BSkyB which broadcasts via satellite in Britain is paying the English Premier League 620m 1 billion over four seasons for the rights to a fraction of its matches Striking down exclusive broadcasting deals might somewhat lower the cost of watching sport But this would not solve the problem entirely in the case of the NFL the league has managed to apportion rights among several broadcasters in such a way as to maximise its profits This suggests that the purveyors of sport are exercising monopoly power There are two ways to curb monopoly power inject competition or regulate the monopoly The first of
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