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According to figures produced by the British Beer and Pub Association, Sky raised its prices between 224% and 625% in the five years to 2001, with...

According to figures produced by the British Beer and Pub Association, Sky raised its prices between 224% and 625% in the five years to 2001, with 30,000 licensed premises paying as much as £1,000 a month. There is evidence that this time it has provoked something of a backlash. For example, Wolverhampton and Dudley is cutting the number of its pubs showing Sky from 280 to 190. Sky justifies its price hike simply by referring to the "quality we offer our customers" and "increasing costs". The latter claim is a bit dubious given the worldwide decline in the value of sports rights. As for quality, Sky's assertion that it will be offering European Champions League action from September needs careful scrutiny. ITV will still have the key live matches from the same league each Tuesday. Moreover, for the first time in a decade, Sky is actually losing exclusive sports rights. All home England football games will, until 2008, be on the BBC, which has also won back England's matches in Rugby Union's Five Nations Tournament. Under pressure from the European Union, enforcing competition law, it is likely that from 2004 some Premiership matches will be available live on terrestrial TV and Sky's exclusive hold will be broken. Moreover, the Rugby League is keen to maximise exposure of its own sport and is trying to switch live coverage of internationals back to the BBC. On top of all this, thanks to the Listed Events legislation, which ensures the "crown jewels of sport" are available to all on terrestrial TV, the three big international sporting events occurring over the next 18 months are available free to air for all to enjoy. In the autumn of 2003 ITV have exclusive rights to the Rugby Union World Cup Down Under, while in the summer of 2004 the BBC will be showing the Olympics and both channels will share the European Football Championships. Of course, some pubs which rely on being the place where every match can be seen, will have to pay whatever Sky demands. Others, where the sports offering is less central, may well have pause for thought. In any event I will be urging the All Party Football Group to recommend that the competition authorities have yet another look at Sky's practices. Otherwise, some football fans hoping to see the Sky big match in the unique atmosphere of their local could find themselves choosing between their pint and staying at home listening to commentary on Radio Five.

Related topics: Legislation

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