BT has ramped up its marketing campaign for its new Sky-rival BT Sport service, which offers 38 exclusive Barclays Premier League and Scottish Premier League matches, by announcing the service will be free to BT broadband customers.
BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN will also provide coverage of the FA Cup, Europa League, Bundesliga and Serie A, as well as rugby union coverage.
The channels will have exclusive rights to 18 'top pick' football games and 69 live Aviva Premiership rugby matches, previously shared between Sky Sports and ESPN and from 2014 the service will provide coverage of MotoGP, again with exclusive rights.
The news will further heat up the competition between BT and the UK's long-standing sports broadcaster, Sky, which has already refused to run any adverts for the new service during any of its own sports coverage.
BT chief executive Ian Livingston said: "UK sports fans have had a rough deal for too long. Many have been priced out of the market but we will change this by giving away BT Sport for free with our broadband. Sports fans are the winners today."
BT has signed up Spurs star Gareth Bale to be at the forefront of marketing campaigns for the next three years, alongside Manchester United's Robin van Persie, Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge and England goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Michael Owen, Darren Fletcher, Rio Ferdinand, Owen Hargreaves, David James MBE and Steve McManaman are among big sports names revealed as pundits across the channels' football coverage, while a role on the commentary team has also been created for Premier League referee Mark Halsey.
Ray Stubbs has been named chief football reporter and Jake Humphrey will anchor BT's coverage of the Barclay's Premier League. Journalist and broadcaster Des Kelly will anchor new sports show 'Life's a Pitch', while Clare Balding is set to present a weekly sports magazine chatshow.
UPDATED: Jonathan Doran, principal analyst at Ovum commented: “As these channels will also be available via the BSkyB satellite platform, this means that Sky TV customers will be able to receive BT’s sports offering, including premiership football and rugby amongst others, for free as long as they stick with, or migrate to BT broadband. With Sky currently the most aggressive of BT’s competitors in the fixed voice and broadband markets – this is a judicious strategic move which, with substantial TV marketing ready to go live today, should prove a successful ploy for BT.
“The BT Sports offer marks a significant departure for BT from its previous TV service positioning. The unbundling of affordable access to premium sports content from regular pay-TV subscriptions is a move that will be attractive to many consumers. This, coupled with the subsidized sports offer for broadband customers will certainly help BT consolidate its leadership in the retail broadband access market. As well as defending its broadband business, it is also important for BT to increase its own TV market share, as this will drive much-eeded additional ARPU growth. BT will be hoping that, backed with a big marketing campaign, the new BT Sports channels (which are also free to BT TV customers) will drive greater take pay-TV up.
“However, Ovum believes BT’s TV strategy remains muddled, with two distinct brands still cluttering its messaging and some unclear benefits listed attributed to its various TV packages. Much work is therefore needed to simplify the offering and drive home the advantages of BT’s TV service over that of the competition.”