Brussels, May 13, 2015 -
- Following the European Commission's publication of its strategy for a Digital Single Market on May 6th, the Sports Rights Owners Coalition (SROC - www.sroc.info) -
of which the European Tour is a founder member - sponsored a debate on the intended and unintended consequences of the strategy, organised by PubAffairsBruxelles
with representatives from the European Commission (EC) and European Parliament (EP). Mark Lichtenhein, Head of Television and Digital Media at the European Tour and Chairman of SROC, moderated a lively discussion between the panelists and a packed audience in the Science 14 Atrium in the heart of Brussels.
Over 200 delegates from journalists through media companies to government officials had registered for the 90-minute debate, which covered a wide range of topics from the needs and expectations of consumers to the potentially far-reaching consequences of the pan-European licensing of sports rights.
Szabolcs Horváth from the cabinet of the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Mr. Tibor Navracsics, started by outlining the three pillars of the new strategy. These are, firstly, to create better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe, secondly, to create the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish and thirdly, to maximise the growth potential of the digital economy. But he stressed that much of the detail of the strategy has yet to be determined, with a number of impact studies required before any new legislation could be put into place.
Arlene McCarthy OBE, former UK MEP for North West England and Parliamentarian of the Year in 2014 argued passionately about the cultural specificity of sport and the integral role sport plays in local communities and grass roots development. She was particularly concerned about how some of the proposals in the strategy could alter the way in which sport is funded and adversely affect the positive benefits that sport brings to society.
Daniel Dalton, UK MEP for the West Midlands and a former professional cricketer with Warwickshire County Cricket Club was well placed to talk about the wide variations in economic value that different sports command throughout the European Union, with cricket having just two major markets (in the UK and Ireland). Dan's main concern was around the portability of digital subscriptions (the ability to consume content legally acquired in one member state in another), an issue in which the SROC is already actively engaged with both the EC and its broadcasters.
The audience stressed the need for evidence-based policy making and questioned the thinking around the potential banning of geo-blocking, pointing out the positive benefits of being able to geo-target content into certain markets. Indeed, in response to some of Dan Dalton's concerns, Sky UK pointed out that, together with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), they have created a free service at skycricketticket.com for citizens of the other 26 member states of the EU to access cricket online. This mirrors the strategy of the European Tour's own service of European Tour TV (www.europeantour.tv), which delivers programming into territories not serviced by broadcasters as well as offering a global highlights "catch-up" service.
Overall, it became clear that a lot of work lies ahead, both for policy makers to fully understand the mechanics of the way in which sport content is sold and distributed as well as for sport to fully explain how its cultural specificities deserve special treatment compared to other goods and services.
Above all, the audience was left in no doubt that this will be a very complex area of policy making, but must be based on true market requirements, allowing for sports' legitimate claims to be treated as culturally specific. Sport is poised to take advantage of all the opportunities that digital technology offers, but it is crucial that law makers create the right conditions for European sports to flourish and maintain their position as world leaders in entertainment, as well as contributing so substantially to Europe's economic well-being.