FIFA, UEFA fret over free TV for World Cup, Euro

Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen, the legal adviser to the European Union's top court, has thrown his support behind soccer fans watching Euro and World Cup matches for free on TV.

EU legal adviser supports free-to-air viewing

Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, is one of many stadiums being built for the 2014 World Cup. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The legal adviser to the European Union's top court on Wednesday backed the rights of football fans to see their World Cup and European Championship games free of charge on television.

Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen advised the court to dismiss the appeal of the FIFA and UEFA federations. The European Court of Justice is to rule on the issue in the coming months but mostly follows the advice of its advocate general.

FIFA and UEFA are seeking more leeway to sell their games to the highest bidders without the constraints of EU law which allows nations to pick certain sports events that must be shown on free-to-air television.

The television packages for the month-long events are among the most valuable in international sports. UEFA got at least €800 million ($1 billion) in broadcast rights from euro 2012 hosted in Ukraine and Poland. FIFA took $2.4 billion (€1.85 billion) in broadcast rights for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The urge to optimize those broadcast rights clashes directly with the EU's directive aimed at giving the whole population the right to watch what are considered essential sporting events on free television.

Britain and Belgium both drew up lists including all of the matches of the World Cup finals, while London also added all Euro matches. Some other EU nations have reserved free viewing for a limited number of games, including their own national team and the finals and semifinals of those big championships.

FIFA and UEFA said all matches at their events could not be of utmost importance for fans in specific member states and appealed.

Jaaskinen insisted on Wednesday that the measure was "justified, and therefore proportionate," a court statement said. He said he "proposes that the Court dismiss the appeals in their entirety."

UEFA said it took note of the advice. FIFA did not have an immediate reaction.

In a previous ruling, an EU court has said the World Cup and the European Championship were "single events" that could not be divvied up at will.

Beyond the soccer tournaments, The EU ruling on free viewing often applies to the summer and winter Olympics, major cycling races, auto races and tennis tournaments.

In the United States, major sports events such as football's Super Bowl, baseball's World Series, and the finals for the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association, are on free-to-air television because they draw the highest ratings and the networks' model is they can recoup their investment with high ad prices. Some playoff series, however, are shown on cable.