IMG, MP & Silva and B4 'were also targeted' in European Commission raids
The London offices of international sports agencies IMG, MP & Silva and B4 Capital are all reported to have been targeted by the European Commission earlier this month in raids on companies involved in the broadcasting of sports and distribution of rights.
It had already been reported that other targets included the London offices of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, and Ziggo, the Dutch telecoms and cable operator that is owned jointly by US media giant Liberty Global and mobile phone operator Vodafone.
IMG and MP & Silva have both been involved in the distribution of rights to Italian soccer’s top-tier Serie A, with IMG now selling the international rights to Serie A from 2018-19 onwards in a deal worth €366.5 million ($447 million) per season, having replaced rival MP & Silva.
Meanwhile, B4 Capital has been a regular bidder in the Italian top flight's international rights sales processes.
IMG said: “IMG Media was the subject of an on-site inspection by the European Commission two weeks ago (April 10th). We are co-operating with the EC and no further comment will be made at this time.” MP & Silva and B4 Capital both today declined to comment.
The commission said in a statement earlier this month that it “has concerns that the companies involved may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).”
It did not name any of the companies involved, but Fox Networks Group, an operating unit of 21st Century Fox which distributes TV and cable channels around the world, confirmed its involvement and said it was co-operating with officials after the raid.
Ziggo also admitted to being targeted, with observers commenting that the rights for Dutch soccer’s top-tier Eredivisie, held by Fox Sports, the subscription broadcaster that is the majority owner of Eredivisie Media & Marketing CV, could be a focus for the raids.
In July last year, the AGCM, Italy’s antitrust body announced that it was investigating alleged collusion between MP & Silva, B4 Capital and IMG over the sale of international broadcast rights to Serie A.
The announcement called into question the trio’s involvement in previous rights auctions as Lega Serie A and Infront Italy, its agency partner, were preparing to issue the latest international tender from 2018-19 onwards.
MP & Silva won the Serie A international rights in previous auctions largely perceived as lacking in serious competition, and its actions, along with those of fellow bidders B4 and IMG, were placed under the microscope.
The AGCM said that “it is suspected that the intermediaries have, since 2009, put in place behaviour that would alter the outcome of the proceedings initiated by Lega Serie A for the allocation of TV rights to view football competitions in territories other than Italy.”
According to the claims made by the investigators, the companies’ behaviour concerned the “distribution of profits and geographical areas.”
B4's main rights distribution contract is its deal to sells rights to the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa cup competitions, in a contract worth €26 million per season.