CNMC opens formal proceedings against the Spanish Football Federation

The sale and use of audio-visual football rights in Spain has always been in the spotlight due to frequent controversies between the Spanish Football Federation (“RFEF”), the national professional football league (“LaLiga”) and the football clubs.

At a national level, LaLiga organises the first and the second division professional leagues, while the RFEF is in charge of the organisation of the National Cup and the Spanish Super Cup championships, and also of the non-professional football categories such as the second division “B” and the third division.

In 2015, the Spanish Government issued the Royal Decree-Law 5/2015 of 30 April on urgent measures related to the commercialisation and exploitation of rights of audio-visual contents of professional football tournaments. This Royal Decree established a centralised sales system of the audio-visual rights to broadcast football by the organisers of the professional League, Cup and Super Cup competitions (i.e. LaLiga and the RFEF). 

However, the implementation of such Royal Decree has not prevented the appearance of new controversies regarding potential anticompetitive practices dealing with the audio-visual football rights.

In 2019, ProLiga – i.e. the third and second division “B” Clubs Association – lodged a complaint before the Spanish Competition Authority (“CNMC”) concerning an alleged abuse of a dominant position by the RFEF in the marketing and exploitation of audio-visual rights in the second division “B” and third division football categories. In particular, such practices would have consisted of the RFEF granting itself the exclusive right to use all the audio-visual rights of both competitions at the expense of the rights held by the participating football clubs, thereby abusing its dominant position as being the organizing entity of the competitions. Consequently, the CNMC has now decided that there is enough evidence of a potential restrictive conduct to open formal proceedings against this entity. 

It should be noted that Royal Decree-Law 5/2015 originally did not apply to the audio-visual rights of non-professional football club categories (i.e. second men’s division “B”, third men's division, and all women's football categories). But this scenario changed in April 2020, when this regulation was amended by the Royal Decree-Law 15/2020, which introduced urgent complementary measures to support the economy and employment in response to the Covid-19 crisis. As a result, a centralised sales system of the audio-visual rights to broadcast football is now provided for all state-level competitions organised by the RFEF.

In any event, the High Sports Council – i.e. the Spanish government agency responsible for the promotion, planning and development of sports activities – has explicitly clarified that the assignment of the centralised sale of audio-visual rights to the RFEF will not have retroactive effects. 

The RFEF clashes with the CNMC again

This is not the first time that the RFEF's activities have been analysed by the CNMC for a potential breach of competition rules. 

In 2018 the RFEF was under investigation after being reported for an alleged abuse of a dominant position by the third and second Division “B” Club Association. It was claimed that the RFEF threatened to suspend football matches and refused to send referees to the clubs in those competitions, as a mean of pressuring those clubs to obtain RFEF authorisation for the broadcasting of their football matches. However, in July that year the complaint was closed due to lack of evidence of the alleged infringement. 

Additionally, in November 2019, the CNMC rejected up to five different proposals by the RFEF to commercialise the audio-visual broadcasting rights of the different rounds of the National Cup and the Spanish Super Cup in Spain, Europe and international markets, due to failure to comply with the requirements of Royal Decree Law 5/2015. The RFEF's proposal for the marketing of the streaming rights for live bets worldwide was also rejected for the same reason, except for Spain.

For the time being, we will have to wait to see if the investigation recently opened means a new setback for the RFEF. For further information on this case, please refer to the CNMC’s official press release here (in Spanish).

For more information please contact Candela Sotés.



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