BT Sport has scored a major broadcasting coup in its multi-billion-pound fight with BSkyB after agreeing a sensational £900m deal for exclusive live rights to both the Champions League and Europa League.
It is the first time that a single UK broadcaster has won the rights to screen both competitions exclusively, meaning BT Sport will be the only place to watch all 350 matches from the two premier European club competitions for at least three seasons from 2015/16 to 2017/18.
BT fought off strong competition from current rights holders BSkyB and ITV, who have shared coverage of the Champions League since 2003, while ITV has covered the Europa League since its inception in 2009.
The lucrative new contract, priced at £299m a season, is worth more than double the arrangement with UEFA’s current UK TV partners, which could mean significantly more money for the clubs participating in the two competitions.
While BT have paid almost £900m, BSkyB reportedly bid £500m to retain its rights while ITV are said to have offered just £220m to keep its current contract.
Despite the loss of European football on terrestrial TV from 2015 onwards, BT has confirmed it will show a selection of both Champions and Europa League matches for free on BT Sport, even to homes that have not signed up to the channels.
The finals of each tournament will be broadcast free-to-view, along with a selection of top matches from earlier rounds, including a promise that each participating British team will feature for free at least once each season.
It has also has pledged to make its matches far more accessible and affordable for fans who wish to enjoy all the action.
The hundreds of additional top tier matches will boost BT Sport and make it the home for football fans who wish to see the very best European sides pitted against each other.
Since launching in August 2013, BT Sport has already accumulated a very strong line-up of live sports coverage from Fridays to Sundays, and these new mid-week games will ensure live football will be broadcast on BT’s sports channels regularly throughout the week.
A spokesman for BT Sport said it had “shaken up the UK TV market” and the news of its shock acquisition of both Champions and Europa League rights will be a major loss to Sky and ITV’s respective sporting portfolios.
Gavin Patterson, BT chief executive, 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.
“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.”
UEFA’s marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein said: “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.”
The UEFA Champions League has continued to grow in stature and popularity since it was set up to replace the former European Cup in the early 1990s, with the total UK audience being around 30 million viewers on average in recent seasons, largely thanks to the success of English clubs in the competition over the past decade.
It’s sister competition – the UEFA Europa League – which was won last season by Chelsea, currently features the fifth placed Barclays Premier League team as well as the winners of the FA Cup and League Cup.
Sky Sports has screened the lions share of UEFA Champions League matches over the last 10 years and losing the rights to its newest rival will be hard to take for a broadcaster which has successfully won its fair share of sports rights deals over its 20-year existence.
In a statement, Sky said: “We bid with a clear view of what the rights are worth to us. It seems BT chose to pay far in excess of our valuation.
“There are many ways in which we can invest in our service for customers.
“We take a disciplined approach and there is always a level at which we will choose to focus on something else. If we thought it was worth more, we’d have paid more.
“Nothing changes until 2015 and we look forward to 18 more months of live Champions League on Sky Sports.
“We will now redeploy resources and continue to bring customers the best choice of TV across our offering.”
BT’s new deal also leaves ITV without regular live football beyond 2015, having already lost the rights to screen FA Cup games from next season.
The free-to-air broadcaster, which has screened Champions League games since 1992 and top Europa League games exclusively since 2011, will only be left with live coverage of England internationals from 2015 onwards.
ITV is understood to be in the running for highlights packages from both competitions.
A spokesman for the channel said: “ITV is proud to have been the UK free to air broadcaster of the Champions League, since it launched in 1992, and of the Europa League, but we were not prepared to pay over the odds in the latest live rights round.
“Viewers will be able to continue to watch both competitions free on ITV through to 2015 and we remain the home of live England football.”
The new BT deal represents the most significant change in UK football broadcasting for a generation.
Outside of World Cups and European Championships, only FA Cup ties (BBC) and England games (ITV) will be shown live on one of the UK’s traditional terrestrial TV broadcasters from 2015 onwards, with all other competitions being shown live on either Sky Sports or BT Sport.
The latter is the UK’s newest TV sports broadcaster with three channels showing live top tier action from the Barclays Premier League, FA Cup and the Aviva Premiership, as well as a host of other sport.
BT has more than two million customers who take the service and the channels reach around four million homes when BT’s wholesale deal with Virgin Media is taken into account.
It is also the home for top European league football, showing regular live matches from Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue1 and Italy’s Serie A.
In securing this major contract for European football, worth nearly £1bn, BT has arguably inflicted the biggest single defeat on BSkyB’s huge sporting portfolio in the latter’s 20-year history.
Both companies have been embroiled in a much publicised war ever since BT moved into sports broadcasting last year when it secured two Premier League rights packages for £738m.
This was in reaction to Sky poaching BT’s broadband customers with the so-called ‘triple-play’ offer of a combined telephone, broadband and TV service.
Sky still retain the majority of live Premier League matches, including most of the top pick clashes, alongside Football League, Scottish football and international games featuring Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
BT Sport’s Premier League offering, along with its other football and rugby union coverage, has boosted its subscribers to two million, and the company hopes exclusive European rights can lift that total significantly further, despite the fact that high-profile matches will remain ‘free-to-view’, which it would appear has been done to protect both competition’s sponsors.
It means the end of live European club football on traditional terrestrial television, but BT’s commitment to screening selected matches free-to-air is likely to quell some of the possible criticism from fans.
This announcement is likely to send shockwaves through European football and represent the biggest shake-up in the established order in sports broadcasting in the UK for many years.
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