Culture vs. Commerce: A Dual Regulatory Approach to Television Sports Rights

TitleCulture vs. Commerce: A Dual Regulatory Approach to Television Sports Rights
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Evens, T., P. Smith, and P. Iosifidis
Affiliation (1st Author)iMinds-MICT, Ghent University, Belgium
Section or WGMedia and Sport Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot Code (Keyword)SPOT4a
Time of SessionSPOT4a
Session TitleMediating Sport
Submission ID6522

Essential reading in media sports portrays how sports has developed as a global, multibillion dollar industry that constitutes significant economic activity. Simultaneously, sports represents a social and cultural activity loved and practiced by millions of people across the globe. The role of the media, and television broadcasting in particular, in the development of sports as a cultural sphere and commercial enterprise must not be overlooked. On the one hand, the transformation of sports into a media spectacle has been highly instrumental for commercial players to take a share of this lucrative sports market. On the other hand, free-to-air television coverage of sports events, most notably by public service broadcasters and terrestrial commercial networks, has helped in creating a public sphere and contributed to the formation of national identity and cultural citizenship in many countries.In the paper, we will examine how these contrasting perspectives on television and sports are reflected in the regulation of sports broadcasting. The contrasting perspectives on television and sport are each embodied in an extensive policy framework that regulates the economic and societal impact of sports broadcasting. First, competition policy aims at facilitating free and fair competition in the upstream broadcast market, and ensure that media companies have equal access to sports rights. Secondly, sector-specific media regulation, in casu the listed events regulation, intends to guarantee the public’s right to information and preserve free access to sports events of major importance to society. However, there is an enduring, but until now relatively unsuccessful, pressure on policy makers to relax both of these strands of regulation in order to favour private interests in sports broadcasting. Hence, concerns arise about the reach and effectiveness of government intervention to preserve the highly-valued public as well as private interests of sports broadcasting, and keep the balance between the cultural and commercial dimension of sports.Based on the findings from eight case studies, with a true global angle comprising sports broadcasting markets in the United States, Brazil, India, South Africa, Australia, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, we claim that the balance has somehow shifted in favour of the commercial interests of sport multinationals, depriving citizens access to free-to-air sports coverage and therefore saddling sports fans with rising bills from pay-TV and pay-per-view services. The economic agenda of market regulation and the prominence of market-based arguments raises the concern that the citizen’s interest is becoming marginalised as the consumer discourse becomes more widespread. In assessing the need for policy intervention, we will make a strong argument for a ‘dual regulatory approach’ that seeks to balance the commercial priorities of sports organisations and private media firms with the wider social and cultural benefits citizens gain from free-to-air sports broadcasting.

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