UK pay-television broadcaster BT Sport has struck another major blow in its battle against BSkyB by securing the exclusive live rights to the UEFA Champions League and Europa League for the three seasons from 2015-16 in a deal worth over Eur1 billion.
The agreement marks the first time a single UK broadcaster has won the exclusive live rights to all matches from both tournaments. BT Sport’s parent company, telecommunications firm BT, has agreed to pay around £299 million per season for the rights, and has pledged to show a selection of matches for free, even to homes that have not signed up to the channels. The final of each tournament will be showcased in this fashion along with a selection of top matches from earlier rounds.
BT Sport launched in August and its new deal represents another significant marker in its ongoing fight to challenge the dominance of rival pay-television operator Sky in the UK market. The Telegraph newspaper said BT’s successful offer to UEFA was nearly twice as much as Sky’s, which is understood to have exited the process after the first round after seeing BT’s offer. Sky and commercial broadcaster ITV, which currently pay £240 million and £155 million for their UEFA packages, both said they believe BT has overpaid for the rights. They are understood to have offered £500 million and £220 million respectively. “If we thought it was worth more, we’d have paid more,” said a spokesman for Sky. ITV added that it was “not prepared to pay over the odds” for the rights. However, BT chief executive Gavin Patterson said he believed shareholders supported the move, adding that the company had a “business case”. “If you have lost it the first thing you say is they have paid over the odds,” he said. “This is what it was worth to us.”
Commenting on the deal as a whole, Patterson added in a statement: “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. BT Sport has got off to a strong start with customers enjoying what we have to offer. We have attracted millions of customers by giving sport back to the fans, and we can assure people who want to catch all the action, that European football will be far more accessible and affordable with BT.” The new deal is also set to provide a major boost for British clubs competing in European competition, with the size of domestic television pools a key factor in UEFA’s revenue distribution for the Champions League and Europa League.