BT Sport pays £1.2bn for exclusive Champions League rights

Deal could mean end of free-to-air European football as broadcaster beats Sky and steals highlights from ITV

(Image credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

BT Sport has agreed a new £1.18bn deal with Uefa to retain the rights to broadcast Champions League and Europa League football until 2021.

The three-year deal will cost £394m a year, up from £299m a year, and could see the end of free-to-air European football as the broadcaster has paid for exclusive rights, which means ITV will no longer show match highlights while BT is expected to ditch its Showcase channel on Freeview.

However, the lack of action on TV could be offset by innovations elsewhere.

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"Viewing figures for European football's premier competition have dropped in recent years, but the broadcaster has promised broader access to the Champions League through social media," reports the Daily Telegraph

"It said it will make clips and highlights available for free on social media, as well as both finals. Last season, BT streamed both finals on YouTube."

According to the Daily Mail, Sky's attempt for the live rights was "some way off BT's successful bid". ITV were also unsuccessful in their attempts to renew their highlights package.

The deal "locks out arch-rival Sky from showing European football's two elite club competitions and confirms that Britain's biggest broadband and mobile operator is here to stay in the football rights market", adds the paper.

But all is not lost for those who want to watch on TV.

"BT is due to explore sub-licensing deals with free-to-air partners, such as Channel 4 and ITV, after competition sponsors expressed concerns to Uefa about the lack of exposure under the existing deal," says The Guardian. However, BT insists Uefa is "not pressuring" it.

The company has also denied it is squeezing its customers to pay for its football coverage, even though the new contract is worth 32 per cent more than the previous one.

"The deal comes on the heels of the telecoms giant prompting outrage among customers and consumer groups for introducing its third price hike in 18 months," says the Guardian. "In January, BT said it was to raise the cost of broadband and calls and begin charging customers £3.50 a month for BT Sport, which will affect about 10m customers from 2 April, equating to increases of five per cent to six per cent."

BT Sport and Channel 4 show Champions League football

28 February

There are no Champions League or Europa League matches this week, but while the big names take a break from European competitions the TV companies are battling to secure the rights to show the action.

The tender deadline for the next TV contract, which runs from the start of the 2018-19 season until 2021, is on Wednesday. The contract's current holders BT Sport are tipped to fend off the challenge of Sky.

"Heavyweight subscription channel rivals Sky will bid to regain the flagship European club tournament rights," says Charles Sale of the Daily Mail.

"But just as Sky couldn't afford to lose their Premier League packages in the last domestic auction, BT Sport's need is greater this time around to keep Champions League content. And Sky will question whether it is worth having to spend around £1bn to recover them."

Although viewing figures for European games have plummeted since BT grabbed the rights in 2015, Uefa will sell to the highest bidder.

"BT are currently in the second year of their initial three-year deal to show Champions League matches, which they wrestled away from Sky in a package worth £900m," says The Sun. "And with Sky already controlling most of the Premier League rights, the need to secure European matches is huge for the newcomers to the UK subscription market.

"Sky want the Champions League back in their offering, but having forked out over £1bn to get the Premier League rights they may find it hard to match BT Sport in going the extra mile."

If BT Sport do retain the rights it could mean some games will be shown on terrestrial TV for the first time since 2015.

Last week the Daily Telegraph reported that Channel 4 was interested in showing some games. "Talks between Channel 4 and BT have been mooted that could see the former sublet certain matches if [BT Sport] retains the rights," said the paper.

"Not since its famous foray into Italian football in the 1990s, including its cult Gazzetta Football Italia highlights show, has the network taken a serious interest in the sport. However, its capture of the rights to this summer's European Women's Championship signalled football was part of its future plans. It also has money to spend having lost the rights to horse racing to ITV and Formula 1 to Sky."

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