Austrian government continues fight for more Bundesliga matches on free TV
By Jonathan Rest
Moves to make it compulsory for matches from Austrian soccer's top-flight Bundesliga to be shown on free-to-air television in the country are a step closer to fruition following a high-level government meeting yesterday.
Austria's coalition government is made up of the centre-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), and vice-chancellor and sports minister Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) and Gernot Blümel, minister for the EU, art, culture and media (ÖVP) were locked in talks in Vienna over potential additions to the ‘listed events’ legislation in the country, which was introduced in 2001.
In September, the Austrian government confirmed it would look to make additions to the legislation in the country as it seeks to ensure greater access to leading sports events for the general public.
ORF, the Austrian public broadcaster, had been leading calls for change following its loss of rights to a weekly Austrian Bundesliga game and failure to retain its Uefa Champions League rights. It wants at least one Bundesliga game on FTA each week.
As was the case back in September, Strache reiterated that certain live Bundesliga games must be added to the list, while Blümel said: "If nobody sees live games outside pay-TV, it will not make sense."
However, Blümel warned that any addition to the list would not necessarily mean ORF getting the contracts.
Any change would likely have to wait until present rights deals end, while any schedule would also need to take into account the notice that must be given to the European Commission under European law.
The debate around free-to-air access to sport has intensified in Austria since the award of the most recent media rights contracts to the Austrian Bundesliga and Champions League.
Sky landed the Austrian Bundesliga rights from 2018-19 to 2021-22 in a contract worth €31.5 million ($35.6 million) per season, and then sold rights to four live games per season to A1 TV, the IPTV service. ORF did negotiate a highlights deal with Sky but can no longer offer a weekly live match after the Austrian top flight opted to award more exclusivity to pay-TV.
Following yesterday's meeting, Bundesliga chief executive Christian Ebenbauer stressed that proposed changes would impact the league's media rights value, be a "massive restriction of marketing opportunities," and put it at a "competitive disadvantage" within Europe.
ORF no longer holds rights to either the Champions League or Europa League, with rights to the top-tier European clubs competition now shared between Sky and DAZN and free-to-air rights to the second-tier tournament acquired by Puls 4. The public broadcaster did somewhat compensate for its high-profile rights losses by completing a four-year deal for ÖFB Cup rights.
Austria's listed events law ensures that the Olympic Games, games at the Fifa World Cup, Uefa European Championships and the ÖFB Cup final are protected, along with the World Championships in Alpine and Nordic skiing (see table below). Two non-sports cultural events are also protected: the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year Concert; and the Vienna State Opera Ball.
Under the legislation, the events of “significant social significance” are reserved for broadcast on a free-access television channel that is available to at least 70 per cent of ORF viewers and without additional fees. ORF was the sole broadcaster to meet the criteria when the legislation was introduced 17 years ago, but commercial networks Puls 4, Servus TV and Germany-based stations would all now be suitable broadcasters of the events.
|Listed sporting and cultural events in Austria|
|Sport / category||Event|
|Olympics||Summer and Winter Olympics|
|Skiing||FIS Alpine World Ski Championships|
|Skiing||FIS Nordic World Ski Championships|
|Soccer||Men's Fifa World Cup games involving Austria, plus the opening game, semi-finals and final|
|Soccer||Men's Uefa European Championships involving Austria, plus the opening game, semi-finals and final|
|Soccer||Final of Austria’s ÖFB Cup|
|Concert||Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert|
|Concert||Vienna State Opera Ball|
At the time of introducing the listed events laws, the Austrian government stipulated that the events must meet at least two of the following criteria in order to be included on the list:
• The event already commands widespread attention in Austria, particularly as a result of reports in the media;
• The event is an expression of Austria's cultural, artistic or social identity;
• The event is - particularly because of the involvement of top-level Austrian sportsmen/women - a sporting event of special national significance or commands widespread attention among viewers in Austria owing to its international importance;
• The event has previously been broadcast on free-to-air television