×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Will British Telecom’s Pricey Gamble on Premier League Rights Pay Off?

Telephony giant broke BSkyB’s stranglehold on the world’s most famous soccer circuit

According to media analyst IHS, Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB last year spent $1.99 billion on sports programming — more than three times the amount invested in movie rights. The bulk of the pay service’s expenditure went to exclusive coverage of one content provider: the Premier League, the world’s most famous soccer circuit.

BSkyB has banked on soccer to draw subscribers almost since its inception, maintaining a stranglehold on Premier League matches by virtue of its willingness to pay ever-increasing sums for rights. In June 2012, the pay-TV service forked over a record $1.17 billion a year for three years for 116 games per season, with the current campaign to kick off Aug. 17. Averaging more than $10 million per match, the deal reps a 40% hike over the previous contract, which averaged approximately $7.2 million per.

Reason for the spike: competition from telephony giant British Telecom.

Unlike previous competitors like Setanta and ESPN, BT secured 18 “first pick” games — meaning BSkyB no longer has a monopoly on the season’s biggest clashes, featuring giants like Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.

The telco’s overall investment in BT Sport is north of $1.53 billion, including the launch of a suite of channels Aug. 1, with state-of-the-art studios at the Olympic Park in London’s East End, an expensive production contract and a lineup of star sports anchors. It paid $378.2 million a year for its 38 Premier League matches — about $10 million per contest.

This means war. The core of the battle lies in drawing broadband subscribers and persuading people to take the triple play of TV, broadband and telephony.

In June, BT announced that BT Sport would be free to existing broadband customers. New subscribers get the channels as part of their broadband subscription for a minimum of $15. BT said that since then, more than 500,000 people had signed up for the channels, though most were existing broadband subscribers.

The offer was made to stop BT subscribers migrating to BSkyB, which has been poaching broadband subs from BT at an alarming rate. BT has almost 6.8 million broadband subs — but second-ranked BSkyB is gaining fast, with 4.9 million, after adding 1.26 million in the past year (to BT’s 434,000).

BSkyB — which has claimed the scalps of would-be rivals ITV Digital, Setanta and, more recently, ESPN — appears sanguine about the new challenge. A spokesman said: “We take competition seriously and always have done so. It drives us on to be better and to deliver the best possible service to customers.”

But it might be rattled: For the first time, BSkyB will show the season’s opening game, featuring Man-U, at no cost.

“Over the years, Sky has broadened out its sports offer by adding exclusive coverage of sports like motor racing and cricket. But Premier League soccer remains unquestionably the main driver for BSkyB subscribers,” explains Tim Westcott, principal analyst of TV programming at IHS.

In France and Germany, telcos grabbed soccer rights but failed to translate that into rapid subscriber growth. Will BT Sport be di erent? Marc Watson, CEO of BT Vision, insists his company can succeed.
“We intend to stick around in this game for the long term,” Watson says. “We are a big business, and this is our home market. … And we’re not that easy to chase out of town.”

BT is heavily committed, and in terms of market capitalization has even deeper pockets than the pay-TV company. “Having invested so much in upgrading its network, TV is an important addition to BT’s bundle of services,” Westcott says. “But it still remains very risky, because Sky is not going to stand still.”

To date, the only clear winner is the Premier League.

More TV

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Good Morning America

    Jussie Smollett Angrily Denies Complicity in Attack

    Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett issued a statement Saturday denying that he orchestrated his Jan. 29 assault, and saying he is “angered” and “devastated” by recent developments in the case. Chicago police want to interview Smollett, after learning new evidence from two Nigerian brothers who were released on Friday night. Local media outlets have [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Empire

    Chicago Police Want to Talk to Jussie Smollett as New Evidence Emerges

    Chicago police are seeking to re-interview “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, after new evidence emerged in his alleged assault. Smollett has claimed that two men attacked him at 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. The Chicago Police Department has consistently said [...]

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content