Is BT Sport's Uefa contract win a big deal?

When news broke of BT Sport's three-year deal to broadcast the Uefa Champions League and Europa League, there were predictable cries from pundits that the young network had "outplayed" its rivals Sky and ITV, and that the "whistle had blown" on the battle over sports rights.

For nearly £900 million, the challenger broadcaster has picked up the rights to screen 350 matches across both football tournaments, commencing with the 2015/16 season. The £299 million bill for each year of transmission is understood to be more than double the cost of the previous broadcast deal.

Analysts were quick to jump on the news, with Citigroup leading the charge, downgrading ITV’s share status from "buy" to neutral. In its note to investors, Citigroup described the Champions League as the "tentpole" that has traditionally brought men to ITV’s main channel, making it the "bigger casualty" of BT’s rights acquisition.

This was balanced by a view from the fellow investment house Morgan Stanley, which said the market was likely to look at this development as a "blip" in the overall story of a resurgent ITV. 

Arguably the bigger setback was to Sky, which operates in the same pay-TV arena as BT Sport, the channel that is expected to show the games from the beginning of the contract. The established broadcaster lashed out at its new rival, accusing it of paying "far in excess" of its own valuation of the rights. Sky stated it had taken a "disciplined approach" in its shared bid with terrestrial partners, and that it "would have paid more" had it deemed the contract worth the extra outlay.

BT Sport will broadcast some of its newly acquired games for free, even to non-subscription homes, presumably in an attempt to attract more subscribers via a taster of its service. Free coverage will include the finals and at least one game from all the participating British teams in the tournaments.

Questions remain about whether the Champions League really is a big concern for viewers, or is simply made out to be by ITV and Sky.

So, does this new stranglehold on live football broadcasting represent a genuine game-changer for BT Sport?


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