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Sports and competition law: An overview of EU and national case law

27/07/2020
Sports and competition law: An overview of EU and national case law

In 1974 the Court of Justice of the EU (“CJEU”) concluded in its famous Walrave and Koch case that sport is subject to EU law as far as it constitutes an economic activity. In the Meca-Medina case of 2006 the Court confirmed that sporting regulations that have economic effects could be analysed under competition law.

However, even though the European Commission has also on several occasions explicitly stated that competition law does apply to the sports sector, the enforcement of competition rules in antitrust cases in the sports industry was not the focus of the European Commission’s competition law enforcement at the start of this millennium. This resulted in an absence of formal competition law infringement decisions by the European Commission in the first decade of this century. In the second decade, the European Commission’s competition law enforcement started targeting the sports sector again, at first particularly in state aid cases.

This article therefore starts with an overview of the recent developments in state aid cases decided by the European Commission concerning the sports sector. Then, the Ice Skating Union case of 8 December 2017 marked the return of the European Commission’s antitrust enforcement in the sports arena. Sport has become ‘big business’ and its enhanced commercialisation and the increasing amounts at stake have boosted the number of complaints. This has resulted in a significant number of antitrust cases, in particular against restrictive measures and abuses through the use of sports associations’ regulatory powers, which we discuss in the second part of this article. The third chapter focuses on sports’ media rights cases. Broadcasting rights for sporting events have become a crucial source of funding for sports organisations and teams and have also attracted antitrust scrutiny. Competition law enforcement in the sports sector has undoubtedly expanded over the last decade and numerous investigations are still pending. In our final conclusion and outlook some of these cases are considered. Public authorities granting aid in the sports sector, sport federations, sports event organisers and broadcasters, clubs and athletes are all warned that they should play by the competition law rules.

You can read the full article that was published in E-competition Special Issue dedicated to Sports & Competition Law here.

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Carmen Verdonck

Partner

Nina Methens

Associate

Quentin Silvestre

Associate

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