BT Sport has retained the rights to the Champions League until 2024 but has been unable to cut its £1.2bn bill after having to see off offers from Sky and ITV.
BT, which has aired Champions League football since 2015 after beating the then joint holders Sky and ITV with a blockbuster bid, has secured the exclusive UK rights to the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League, which is due to start in 2021.
Following a dip in the value of the last Premier League rights auction – Sky shaved £200m a year off its previous deal – BT was hoping to please investors by potentially reducing its current £1.2bn deal by £50m to £100m a season.
BT is paying £400m a year in its new three-season deal, a little more than the £394m a year paid under its current deal to exclusively air live matches and highlights. However, BT has secured more value from its latest deal. It will air 420 games from the Champions League, Europa League and the Europa Conference League, an increase of 77 matches.
“We’re delighted to remain the home of Uefa Champion’s League in the UK,” said Marc Allera, chief executive of BT’s consumer division. “We’re very excited to continue to bring our world-class coverage to one of the most exciting global football competitions in the world.”
Renewed interest from Sky and ITV, which was looking to bring some matches back to free-to-air TV, meant that BT could not afford to put in a lower offer and risk losing the rights. After giving up on trying to take the lion’s share of the prime Premier League rights from Sky, after several rounds of auctions that resulted in eye-watering inflation, BT relies on the Champions League rights as the crown jewel sports offering for its pay-TV service.
Philip Jansen, BT’s chief executive, who took over from Gavin Patterson in February, has highlighted the importance of Champions League football to the company’s TV strategy. BT’s call centres, he said, had seen an “astounding” amount of traffic from fans seeking to sign up as Liverpool and Tottenham prepared to play the first all-English final since 2008. BT Sport says that it saw a 26% increase in Champions League viewer hours last season.
“All matches will be available across the BT Sport channels and digital services,” said Guy Laurent Epstein, Uefa’s marketing director. “In addition, UK football fans will be able to enjoy club competition highlights for free on social media each match week, as well as the finals of the Champions League, Europa League and newly formed Europa Conference League.”
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