BT Sport will remain the exclusive UK home of all live Champions League and Europa League football until 2021 after securing a multi-billion pound renewal with UEFA.
The broadcaster, which has been the UK home of Europe’s elite club competitions since 2015, has paid £1.2bn to fend off rivals Sky for its three-year extension, a 32% increase on the cost of the current £897m three-year deal which ends in 2017/18.
The new deal covering 2018 to 2021 gives BT exclusivity across all live games and highlights from both competitions for the first time, meaning there will be no weekly free-to-air highlights, currently broadcast on ITV, unless BT strikes a sub-licensing deal with a terrestrial broadcaster.
According to reports, Sky bid an undisclosed amount for the rights that was some way off BT’s successful bid, while ITV put in a bid to retain their highlights package.
The UEFA Champions League is set for a major revamp from the start of BT’s next deal in 2018/19 with a minimum of four participating teams now guaranteed from each of England, Spain, Germany and Italy, resulting in more games between the top European teams.
There will be regular Champions League ‘double-header’ nights, with live matches kicking off at both 6pm and 8pm during the group stage.
As part of the new deal, BT will continue to show UEFA matches using the latest broadcast innovation and technology, with games made available in 4K ultra high-definition with Dolby Atmos sound, and via the BT Sport App.
In addition, BT has promised wider viewing access on social media, with clips, highlights and UEFA’s magazine shows to be made available free across various online platforms, as well as both finals.
Commenting on the new deal, John Petter, chief executive of BT’s consumer division, said: “We are delighted to have renewed these rights.
“The UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League are two of the best competitions in the world and we would like to thank UEFA for choosing us as their exclusive broadcast partner in the UK.
“The UEFA Champions League is due to get even stronger and we are delighted that fans will be able to enjoy two live matches a night for the first time.”
The deal comes in light of strong rumours that UEFA were tempted to return some matches to free-to-air television due to a fall in viewing audiences for live matches since BT took over exclusive rights in 2015.
BT also faced criticism from customers and consumer groups for a third price hike in its phone, broadband and TV packages in 18 months, but the telecoms giant denied customers were being squeezed to fund its battle with Sky for sports rights.
The new deal means BT’s costs per season will rise from £299m to £394m, as rampant inflation in premium sports rights shows no signs of slowing down, a subject which BT’s own chief executive Gavin Patterson complained about after the company submitted its bid to UEFA.
A significant outcome from BT’s new exclusive deal for live coverage and highlights of both competitions is that there will be no separate free-to-air highlights deal offered by UEFA, which are currently held by ITV.
BT is due to explore sub-licensing deals with potential free-to-air partners, including ITV and Channel 4, after competition sponsors expressed concerns to UEFA about the lack of exposure under the existing deal.
Despite making some output free-to-air on its BT Sport Showcase channel and online, including last season’s finals on YouTube, viewing figures for Champions League football have dropped significantly in recent years, which was highlighted by Sky when it lost the rights to BT at the 2013 auction.
BT are yet to confirm whether BT Sport Showcase, which is available on Freeview channel 59, will continue when the new three-year deal kicks in from 2018/19.
Petter told The Guardian that UEFA was, however, not pressuring BT to secure a free-to-air TV deal. “There is no requirement for us to do that at all. They have been happy to see the sorts of audiences BT Sport has been getting.
“On the other hand, if there is a great deal to be done we will look at it. [But] there is no pressure at all.”
“We are truly exclusive now. Viewing on social media has seen the biggest growth in audiences, especially since we gave access to BT Sport to EE customers.”
Despite low viewing figures, the premium price offered, along with a greater commitment to expanding the social media audience, is thought to have swung the deal in BT’s favour.
Guy Laurent Epstein, UEFA marketing director, said: “UEFA is delighted to have extended the relationship with BT Sport for a further three seasons, taking our partnership to 2021.
“BT Sport has proved to be an innovative broadcast partner, pushing the boundaries and covering the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in new ways.
“BT have delivered strong audiences in the UK and we are excited about their future plans for the use of social media which will engage a growing fanbase that consumes sport in different ways.”