Saturday 24 March 2018

BT Sport claims victory over Sky after paying £900m for Champions League rights from 2015

Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich celebrates after scoring his late winner in last season's Champions League final
Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich celebrates after scoring his late winner in last season's Champions League final

Ben Rumsby

BT Sport has claimed a stunning victory in the battle for Champions League football on Saturday after blowing BSkyB and ITV out of the water by paying almost £900 million to show the world’s biggest club competition.

Uefa confirmed the new broadcaster had won the exclusive UK live rights for both the Champions League and Europa League for three years from 2015, signalling an end to decades of terrestrial coverage of European club football.

The news does not affect the Irish market. TV3 have said that they have rights until 2015 and the news of BT's takeover strengthens their negotiating position.

But taking out ITV was nothing compared to toppling the might of BSkyB, which is thought to have come close to matching BT’s £299m per season offer, more than double what the former two companies paid to share the current contract back in 2011.

Saturday’s announcement will send shockwaves through English football and represent the biggest shake-up in the established order in sports broadcasting in Britain for years.

Sky had ridiculed its new rival for branding its capture of Premier League football as a “game changer” and a source close to BT described its biggest success to date as “the real game changer”.

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson said: “I am thrilled that BT Sport will be the only place where fans can enjoy all the live action from the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Both tournaments are world class and firm favourites with many. The live rights will give a major boost to BT Sport and give people yet another reason to take our terrific service."

Guy-Laurent Epstein, Uefa Events SA Marketing Director, added: “Uefa is delighted to welcome newcomer BT Sport to the family of Uefa Champions League rights holders. Since its launch in the summer, BT Sport has been Uefa’s partner for the Uefa Europa League and has demonstrated its ability to deliver premium sports coverage. We look forward to working with BT Sport on both competitions in the 2015-18 rights cycle.”

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, BT Sport committed to making certain matches available free-to-air across both the Champions League and Europa League – including both finals – a tactic it has already employed with its Premier League coverage.

Being available to every household with a television in the UK had been ITV’s trump card in its relationship with Uefa that has seen it broadcast the Champions League ever since the competition’s inception in 1992.

That had been an extremely attractive prospect for sponsors, which do not enjoy the same reach on Sky Sports and would have even less exposure on BT Sport if all matches remained behind a paywall.

Most will, with BT Sport committing only to showing each British club free-to-air once per season.

ITV surrendering the Europa League, the rights for which it currently holds along with BT Sport, leaves it with no live club football from 2015, with the BBC and BT Sport having won the rights to the FA Cup after this season.

It was expected to hold on to a share of the highlights package along with BT Sport, but that will be of scant consolation, with its only remaining live football rights being England’s home and away matches, which it recently tied up until 2018.

BT Sport securing Champions League football also represents arguably the biggest defeat ever suffered by Sky, who it is understood bid for the exclusive rights to the competition it has shared with ITV since 2008.

So determined were Sky to prevent BT Sport adding the world’s biggest annual sports tournament to its roster, it is thought there was even the prospect of it breaking the bank and sub-letting some matches to ITV to satisfy Uefa’s desire for some level of free-to-air coverage.

Sky and BT have been at war ever since the latter moved into sports broadcasting in a bid to stop its rival poaching its broadband customers with the offer of a combined telephone, broadband and television service, so-called ‘triple play’.

BT Sport became a serious player when it paid £738 million over three years to show Premier League football alongside Sky, who still retained the lion’s share of live matches and most of the best ones as well.

Nevertheless, BT Sport’s 38 games per-season, along with its other football and rugby union rights boosted its number of subscribers to two million.

Exclusive Champions League rights could massively increase that total, even if some high-profile matches are shown free-to-air.

But it will also raise questions over whether BT has overpaid and whether its offer of free sport for its broadband customers is sustainable if it is to recoup the near £2bn it is set to pay out in sports rights over the coming years.

It insisted on Saturday its Champions League bid would not change its current financial outlook.

Online Editors

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