Sport has a huge economic impact in the EU: €407 billion in 2004, representing 3.7% of EU GDP and employing15 million persons (5.4% of the labour force). That impact has continued to grow, and in many cases sport has become "big business" (primarily because broadcasting rights – particularly for TV – have become very profitable).
The Commission has had to deal with an increasing number of competition disputes related to the sport sector that have led to either formal decisions or informal settlements. The EU courts have also handed down a growing number of important judgments in the field of sport. While many of these are based on the EU internal market rules – for example, the free movement of workers (Bosman ruling) – some are based on EU competition rules.
EU competition law covers antitrust, mergers and state aid. Most sport cases have been handled under EU antitrust rules, which prohibit anti-competitive agreements and practices as well as abuse of a dominant position. These cases concerned revenue-generating activities connected with sport, such as media rights and ticket sales and regulatory/organisational aspects of sport.
While the application of EU competition law to economic activities in the sport sector is of great importance, the Commission and the Courts of the EU have recognized the important social and cultural role of sport when considering cases related to sport.
Economic activities related to sport fall within the scope of EU law, including competition law:
- joint sale of sport media rights: the Commission has set forth the main principles in the UEFA Champions League, the FA Premier League and Bundesliga decisions.
The Commission accepted the joint selling of sport media rights by football associations on behalf of football clubs (as opposed to the sale of these rights by the individual clubs themselves), provided certain conditions were fulfilled. These include, inter alia, the sale of sport media rights through open and transparent tender procedures, a limitation of the rights' duration (usually not exceeding three years) and the breaking down of the rights into different packages to allow several competitors to acquire rights.
- With respect to the joint acquisition of sport media rights, reference is made to the Eurovision I and Eurovision II judgments.
- ticket sales arrangements: – the most recent cases have concerned exclusivity arrangements between the organisers and the sponsors of sports events whereby consumers could pay for tickets by using the sponsor's credit card (credit card exclusivity).
- regulatory/organisational issues: The Court of Justice has confirmed in the Meca Medina case that the compatibility of sporting rules with EU competition law should be examined on a case-by-case basis. The Court of Justice provided further clarification concerning the application of EU competition law to sporting rules in the MOTOE case.
In this judgment the Court confirmed that the commercial exploitation of sporting events is covered by EU competition rules.
When an issue is strictly national or local, national competition authorities and courts apply EU antitrust rules in close cooperation with the Commission.
State aid for sports essentially finances either infrastructure or individual sports clubs.
The construction of an infrastructure with a view of its future commercial exploitation by the State or third party operators, to which it is intrinsically linked, will constitute an economic activity. (See related judgement of the Court).
Consequently, the public support towards sports infrastructure dedicated to or benefiting certain undertakings is likely to involve State aid. However, under certain conditions, such financing of the infrastructure, which is also open for the general public can be found compatible with the common market under the Article 107(3) TFEU as it was demonstrated in the Commission Decision of 13 October 2011 concerning the support of the sports sector in Hungary through a tax benefit scheme.
Nevertheless, there could be also cases where certain infrastructure does not have state aid relevance because it is strictly local and unlikely to impact trade between the EU Member States – for example a local swimming pool or ski lifts at resorts with few installations or limited accommodation for tourists. However, this might not be true for leisure parks, for example, which can be advertised outside the country in which they are located and specifically target customers from other Member States.
- Joint statement on Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules and state aid control in professional football en fr . March 2012.
Letter by Vice-President Joaquín Almunia en fr - Letter by UEFA President Michel Platini en fr de
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the European Commission are concerned that clubs in the short term pay inflated wages for players, even when their true financial position should not allow them to do so. Such a policy seems particularly unjustified in the context of the current economic downturn where austerity measures are being introduced in all Member States. The central objective of Financial Fair Play (FFP, namely to "live within your means" or "break even") ensures prudent economic management that will serve to protect both the interests of individual clubs and players as well as the football sector in Europe as a whole. This principle is also consistent with the aims and objectives of European Union policy in the field of State aid
The joint statement provides a basis for further cooperation between the Commission and UEFA with a view to promoting fair competition between football clubs.
- EU competition-law decisions related to sport include: