Sport has a huge economic impact in the EU: In 2012, the then 28 EU Member States of the European Union reported a GDP totalling 13,198 bn Euros Sport related GDP was found to be 279.7 bn Euros or 2.12% of total GDP. Thus, around one in 47 Euros of GDP was generated within sport (see the Study on the economic impact of sport through sport satellite accounts - 2018, European Commission).
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 a number of competition disputes related to the sport sector that have led to formal decisions. The EU courts have also handed down a 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.
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.
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 have concerned revenue-generating activities connected with sport, such as media rights and ticket sales and the regulatory/organisational aspects of sport.
Economic activities related to sport fall within the scope of EU law, including competition law:
The Commission set forth the main principles of the joint sale of media rights 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.
Cases concerning ticket sales arrangements have concerned exclusivity arrangements between the organisers and the sponsors of sports events whereby consumers could pay for tickets only by using the sponsor's credit card (credit card exclusivity).
Regarding regulatory/organisational issues: The Court of Justice 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. In October 2015, following a complaint by two professional speed skaters, the European Commission opened a formal investigation into the eligibility rules of the International Skating Union. In its final decision, issued in December 2017, the Commission found that those speed skaters participating in competitions that were not approved by the ISU faced severe penalties, including lifetime bans from all major international events. By imposing such restrictions, the Commission found that the ISU rules restricted competition and enabled the ISU to pursue its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and organisers of competing events. No fines were imposed upon the ISU, however the Commission’s decision required the ISU ended the infringement within 90 days of the date of notification and to communicate all the measures taken for that purpose. On 16 December 2020, the General Court confirmed that the ISU Eligibility rules were contrary to EU competition law.
State aid for sports essentially finances either infrastructure or individual sports clubs.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Commission approved many measures by which Member States supported sports events and sport-related industries under the State aid Temporary Framework and Articles 107(2)b, 107(3)b and 107(3)c TFEU.
According to the judgment of the General court of 24th March 2011, support granted by the State for the construction of an infrastructure with a view of its future commercial exploitation by the State or third party operators, to which it is linked constitutes “an economic activity”, and is therefore likely to involve State aid. Consequently, public support towards sports infrastructure dedicated to or benefiting certain undertakings is also likely to involve State aid. However, under certain conditions such financing of the infrastructure can be compatible with competition rules under Article 107(3) TFEU if the aid furthers a common interest. This was demonstrated in the Commission Decision of 13 October 2011 concerning the support of the sports sector in Hungary through a tax benefit scheme. In its Decision the Commission stated that it found the Hungarian scheme to be compatible with Article 107(3)(c) TFEU as it allowed the aid to “facilitate the development of certain economic activities, where it does not adversely affect trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest".
Aid for infrastructure at local level normally does not have State aid relevance.
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 of 21 March 2012 provides a basis for further cooperation between the Commission and UEFA with a view to promoting fair competition between football clubs.
- Joint statement on Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules and state aid control in professional football
- Letter by Vice-President Joaquín Almunia
- Letter by UEFA President Michel Platini
- Press release