European Commission investigators today raided the UK offices of Fox Networks Group in London as part of an antitrust probe regarding sports rights. The EC afterward confirmed the “unnaounced inspections,” saying it “has concerns that the companies involved may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.”

The raids are an early step into “suspected anticompetitive practices,” the EC said in a statement (read it in full below). It said the Fox companies involved “may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.”

Fox Networks Group
Fox Networks Group

Fox Networks Group is Rupert Murdoch-owned 21st Century Fox’s primary operating unit for TV and cable. An FNG spokesperson said in a statement to Deadline, “Fox Networks Group is cooperating fully with the EC inspection.”

The raid comes as 21CF continues to try to acquite Sky Plc., the pan-European satcaster for which Comcast has made an aggressive counteroffer. Today’s raid comes six weeks after Sky won a number of the best rights packages for the English Premier League at a 14% discount on its previous deal, which could see it save around £200M (US$279M) per year.

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Here is the EC’s full statement out of Brussels today:

The European Commission can confirm that on 10 April 2018 its officials carried out unannounced inspections in several Member States at the premises of companies active in the distribution of media rights and related rights pertaining to various sports events and/or their broadcasting.

The Commission has concerns that the companies involved may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.