End of the road for foreign satellite football

By Tony Holman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Foreign satellite United kingdom European court of justice European union Eu

Holman: used to supply foreign satellite systems
Holman: used to supply foreign satellite systems
A former supplier of cut-price foreign satellite systems argues that the time has come to get rid of your foreign service or face prosecution. In my...

A former supplier of cut-price foreign satellite systems argues that the time has come to get rid of your foreign service or face prosecution.

In my younger days I was a main player in the building of Trident, our country's nuclear deterrent, and I was reasonably well known throughout the hallowed halls of the Ministry of Defence.

I would like to think this fame was due to my intellect, debating skills and wit. But in reality, and being a keen Sex Pistols fan, it was probably more likely to be down to my 18-inch green Mohican hairstyle intermingling a sea of grey suits.

One day, while on walkabout, the Conservative Minister of Defence put his hand on my shoulder and said: "You know what, son, if you're not a communist at 20 you've got no heart, and if you're still a communist at 30 you've got no brain." And you know what? He was right on both counts.

The moral of this little story is that if you did not have an EU-sourced foreign satellite system for the 2009-2010 season, you had no heart and if you still have one for the 2010-2011 season, you have no brain — and here's why.

Life is full of opportunity and regret and when the High Court in London referred the Football Association Premier League v foreign satellite dealers and users to Europe, it opened up a window of real opportunity for those of us with a heart.

That window of opportunity was to run an EU sports satellite system, such as a German or Italian one, alongside British Sky, as both these systems show the all-important 3pm kick-off games. They complement Sky and, run in conjunction, give wall-to-wall sport and you would enjoy an enforced amnesty for a limited period of time.

This window existed because it would, in my opinion, be impossible to prosecute anyone using a European system until after the court case, which was, at the time, expected to take place at some time between October 2009 and October 2010.


The commonly-held belief then was that the European Court would conclude that due to poorly-written EU law a "loophole" had been created allowing the use of EU-sourced foreign cards in UK pubs. But that loophole is now firmly closed and the practice must stop with immediate effect.

This may, of course, be complete rubbish and the Europeans find the practice to be illegal from the off — in which case all bets are off.

This degree of uncertainty is the reason why the use of foreign systems in the UK is not as prevalent as it could be.

It's certainly not a route that should be taken by those who are risk averse or of a nervous disposition. It was at best complementary to Sky and at worst an illegal activity.

My own personal involvement in foreign satellites started in public on 24 June 2008, when the Hon. Mr Justice Kitchen referred the issue to Europe. From that point on, whether to go down the EU foreign route became a commercial decision, not a legal one.

I wrote to every multiple operator and pubco — indeed, everyone I knew — and told them so. I also told them that this was a window of opportunity and they needed to act fast and gain first-mover advantage if they were to benefit from that opportunity.

As far back as June 2008, I also told anyone who would listen not to sign up for an extended subscription package or buy any EU systems after October 2009.

As far as I was concerned, this was the cut-off date for the window of opportunity, as a decision could be announced any time shortly thereafter — and that decision would always prevent the continued commercial use of foreign systems.

That date of October 2009 was the agreement I had with others in the industry and it was commonly regarded as the safe bet. The reason for this is that none of us had a crystal ball and, as stated, it was the common belief that you would not be able to use foreign satellite after the hearing as at best it would be deemed to be illegal from that point on.

At worst it could always have been illegal and prosecutions could have started retrospectively so [the messsage was to] get the hell out while you can. And if sport is good for you then sign up to Sky.

The risk to those users who continue to screen foreign satellite is that this issue is due to be debated in court any time now. And if you have signed up for a year or even two — or, worse still, have paid up-front — the card-dealer in all probability will be sunning himself on some faraway beach with his ill-gotten gains. If you are on subscription, my advice would be to stop the mandate now and tell them to come and talk it out.

I exited the business, as promised, in October 2009 as I wanted to play fair, but many others did not as the greed and easy money took control over sense. It's true that the case has not yet been heard, but that is more through luck than judgement.

And anyone currently using or, worse still, depending on EU-sourced systems has a very short shelf-life and needs to rapidly reconsider their position.

Outside EU

For those who are using foreign satellite systems that are sourced from outside the EU, that's another story altogether. Without wishing to offend, you deserve to be horse-whipped. The entire legal defence meandering its way through the European Courts of Justice is based on the principle of freedom of movement of goods within the EU. A past associate of mine argued that Albania is pretty close to the EU so it must be okay for him to sell systems from there! No.

Anyone selling commercially or using non-UK systems commercially is without question breaking the law — and sooner or later you'll get caught.

If this is you, throw it out now and call your supplier and demand your money back. This is not a case of me turning from poacher to gamekeeper — it's a case of simple common sense. Albania, for those of you who are geographically challenged, is not in the EU — and neither is north Africa. There is also another category of user around: those who have purchased streaming devices or cloned cards, and these people are committing a very serious criminal offence.

Cloning and streaming is theft, yet I have heard of national pubcos promoting the latter, which is stupid beyond belief. As the old adage goes "if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is".

During my time promoting the use of EU-sourced satellites, I always explained that Sky offers an incredible service — and it's not a matter of what it costs, as that's irrelevant.

The simple question is: does it offer my business value for money?

If, for example, Sky contributes double its cost to your margin or if your business is predominantly sports-oriented, then why on earth are you putting two fingers up at the golden goose? You should have kept Sky and during the window of opportunity — which is now well and truly closed — you should have complemented it with an EU system.

On a final note, there is no such thing as a legal commercial Sky Italia card in the UK (or indeed in any other non-UK country of origin). Every single one of them out there is registered to a domestic address in Italy using a false name and a dubiously acquired national insurance number.

That card is then shipped to the UK for onward sale to be used commercially, possibly by you.

The reason you sometimes experience viewing difficulty is that on average there are seven links in the chain between the clandestine manner in which this domestic card was obtained and it reaching your pub.

While some of these links may be "honest John" trying to make a living, others could be fairly sinister organised crime.

Related topics Legislation

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