Virgin Media Asks U.K. Regulator to Halt Premier League Bids

Virgin Media has asked British regulators to stop the auction of Premier League broadcast rights as the cost of live coverage of England’s most popular soccer matches soars.

Virgin Media, owned by billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc, wants Ofcom to finish an investigation into the auction process before bidding continues, the company said in an e-mailed statement. The sale of television rights for one of the wealthiest championships in sport is expected to conclude next month.

The company complained to Ofcom last year that the league doesn’t make enough matches available to broadcasters, leading to higher prices for bidders and viewers. Sky Plc and BT Group Plc paid more than 3 billion pounds ($4.6 billion) when the rights were offered in 2012, about 70 percent higher than what was paid previously.

“The Premier League has pushed ahead with its early sale of TV rights despite Ofcom’s investigation,” Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s chief corporate affairs officer, said in the statement. Failure to pause the auction to complete the probe “will leave fans, who already pay the most to see the least amount of football in Europe, facing yet another big rise in the cost of watching live football on TV.”

A Premier League spokesman said the auction is being conducted “fully in compliance with competition law” and that there’s “no legal basis whatsoever for any interference with the sales process or the legitimate operation of the market.” It increased the number of games being auctioned this year to 168 from 154 per season.

Ofcom will make a decision on Virgin Media’s request “in a matter of days,” a spokesman for the communications regulator said. The agency can decide to halt the auction if it’s a matter of protecting the public interest or preventing “significant damage to a particular person.”

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