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Ofcom rejects Murdoch radio group's call for competition review into BBC sports rights

Ofcom has rejected a call from commercial radio group Wireless, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, for a competition review into how the BBC acquires sports rights for Radio 5 Live, Sports Extra and Radio 4.

The group, which owns radio stations Talksport and Talksport 2, claimed the BBC’s activities in this area “harmed competition” for commercial sports radio, including its own ability to procure rights.

Broadcast regulator Ofcom acknowledged that as a large public-funded organisation the BBC “may harm the ability of other companies to compete effectively” by potentially crowding-out UK investment.

But, in a response to Wireless’ request, published today, it said there was “limited evidence” to suggest Talksport’s “ability to compete is under threat”.

It said Talksport was profitable and had built a “sizeable portfolio” of sports rights, sometimes beating the BBC in auctions, such as last year winning the right to broadcast all English Football League matches.

Ofcom also claimed there was evidence to suggest that the BBC’s radio sports rights expenditure could be decreasing.

It said: “Having reviewed Wireless’ submission, we consider it would not be appropriate to exercise our discretion to launch a BBC Competition Review at this time.

“This is principally because the way in which the BBC acquires radio sports rights does not appear to have changed materially since the BBC Charter came into effect in December 2016, and any consumer harm resulting from the way the BBC acquires radio sports rights seems unlikely to be material.”

BBC Radio 5 LIve and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra has the rights to broadcast 144 premier league matches, compared to 89 for Talksport and Talksport 2.

The BBC also has the rights to Ashes cricket, international rugby, tennis, Formula 1 and boxing, where Talksport has none.

A Wireless spokesperson said: “We believe in consumer choice and, as Ofcom points out, the BBC is the largest player in radio sports rights, with the deepest pockets.

“The playing field between commercial radio and the BBC has always been uneven and we believe the BBC’s approach to radio sports rights acquisitions should be analysed.

“We are reviewing Ofcom’s statement and considering our next steps.”

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