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Volume 6 No. 212
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BT Sport Beats Sky To Champions League Rights In $1.4 Billion Deal

BT has "achieved its biggest sporting coup yet over Sky," winning the rights to show Champions League football matches in a £900M ($1.4B) deal, according to Mance & Thomas of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The deal, announced on Saturday, "strikes at the heart of two decades of football broadcasting dominance by Sky." However, "it is likely to raise questions about whether BT is paying too much for sports rights," to which it has now committed nearly £2B ($3.2B). Under a three-year agreement starting in '15, "BT will be the only broadcaster to show live Champions League and Europa League games" in the U.K., paying £299M ($479M) per season. That is more than double what Sky and ITV currently pay for the same rights, "suggesting that BT bid aggressively" under new CEO Gavin Patterson. In the tender, ITV is thought to have bid about £63M ($101M) per season "to show one live game per round, representing an increase of less than one-fifth on its current deal." Sky "was prepared to increase its payments by a greater proportion, but could not match BT." A Sky spokesperson said in a statement, "It seems BT chose to pay far in excess of our valuation. If we thought it was worth more, we'd have paid more" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 11/9). In London, Nic Fildes noted the current deal, signed in '11 with Sky and ITV, was worth £400M (LONDON TIMES, 11/9). In London, Allen & Garside reported BT Consumer Managing Dir John Petter defended the deal as "crucial to the business and good news for grassroots fans." Petter: "These rights are key ones for football fans and determine if they are going to go with your service or not. I think they are pretty important" (GUARDIAN, 11/10).

FREE TO AIR: Also in London, Ben Rumsby wrote 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 TV in the U.K. had been ITV's trump card in a 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, who 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." BT Sport Consumer Chief John Petter also admitted other matches would be "need to be chargeable," a departure from its policy of offering its channels free to existing broadband subscribers (TELEGRAPH, 11/9). In London, Michael Calvin wrote BT's promise to broadcast a limited number of football matches, including the Champions' and Europa League finals, free to air, "will fail to soothe those romantics who pine for the days of 3pm kick-offs, local heroes, and snippets shown on terrestrial television" (INDEPENDENT, 11/10).

INFLATED BID: Also in London, Rumsby wrote BT’s offer was so far in excess of that made by BSkyB and ITV combined that even UEFA "had to pinch itself before ending the bidding after just one round." Media analyst Claire Enders, who suggested the bid was "mad," said, “Going from £400 million in the existing contract to £900 million is an extraordinary level of inflation and one that has never been seen in any deal in the developed world" (TELEGRAPH, 11/9). EUROSPORT reported England's Champions League clubs will get a £25M ($40M)-a-season windfall thanks to BT Sport's "remarkable entry into the European football broadcasting market." The "vast pot of gold increases the importance for leading clubs of qualifying for the Champions League and will add to the pressure on those competing year-in year-out for a place in the Premier League’s top four." It "will likely mean that many clubs with prospects of reaching Europe's elite competition will view the domestic cup competitions as even less important -- if that is possible in some cases" (EUROSPORT, 11/10).

SKY IS FALLING: In London, Owen Gibson wrote the deal "ends Sky's dominance of a sport that has been crucial to the broadcaster's broader appeal." It "is the most dramatic twist yet in a bitter battle" that began when BT paid £738M for 38 live Premier League matches a season. The move "was designed to transform its image from staid telecoms company into a 21st-century multimedia business." The huge increase "is good news for clubs, players and agents, but it remains to be seen whether it will be good value for fans" (GUARDIAN, 11/9). In London, Mance wrote a "fierce battle is now expected over the rights to broadcast English Premier League football." Analysts said that "Sky must now defend its dominance in Premier League rights, which will next be auctioned" in the summer of '15. Berenberg Bank analyst Sarah Simon said, "Sky has to get a package back off BT, [but] BT won’t want to give rights up having just got more." Consensus forecasts had indicated that the cost of Premier League rights would rise about 20% at the '15 auction to about £3.6B ($5.8B) (FT, 11/10).

'GOLDEN GOOSE': In London, Gibson also wrote the bidding war shows that "the carefully cultivated Champions League" has become a "golden goose" both for UEFA and the clubs that typically qualify and share the proceeds. With its big-name sponsors, carefully managed branding, alluring ties and instantly recognizable "anthem," the Champions League has become "the most glamorous and coveted club trophy in football" (GUARDIAN, 11/10). Also in London, Jason Burt wrote as the BT advertising campaign launched in the summer for its televising of Premier League matches claimed: "this is the game-changer." Except winning the rights for the Champions League "really now is the game-changer." For the first time the Champions League and Europa League "will be controlled in this country by one broadcaster." That "has never happened before either." ITV "have lost also" (TELEGRAPH, 11/9).