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BT outbids Sky for Champions League TV rights and promises free highlights on social media


By Tony Connelly, Sports Marketing Reporter

March 6, 2017 | 5 min read

BT has outbid Sky to retain the exclusive broadcast rights to the Uefa Champions League and the Europa League competitions in a new deal that sees ITV lose its highlights programme with BT Sport showing clips for free on social media.

BT Sport

BT is paying £394m a season under the new deal

The telecoms giant's three-year deal with Uefa will run until the end of the 2020/21 season and is reportedly worth £1.82bn, representing a 30% hike from the £897m it paid to secure coverage from 2015 until 2018.

As part of the tie-up, BT Sport will have exclusive rights to all live games for both tournaments, highlights and in-match clips.

The exclusivity deal over the highlights marks the first time that all content from both competitions has been held by a single broadcaster and means Champions League action will no longer be shown on free-to-air TV at all.

To compensate for the lack of terrestrial coverage, while also catering to the evolving nature of sports viewing habits, BT Sport will make video clips and a weekly highlight show available for free on social media. It will also show the Champions League and Europa League finals free on social media as it did last year.

While no specific platforms have been named for streaming of the finals, BT Sport could partner with YouTube again given it used the viewing data from those fans who watched last year's final on the streaming site to retarget them the following week.

The decision to offer more content, such as clips and highlights, on social media comes in response to a wider shift in viewing habits which has seen audiences increasingly opt to watch highlights on Snapchat and other social platforms over traditional TV broadcast means.

Other changes in the new deal, include a change to kick-off times during the group stage with the standard 7:45pm start time for all games being scrapped in favour of ‘double header’ nights where games will be played at both 6pm and 8pm.

By stretching out the duration of its coverage on game nights rather than having fixtures played out simultaneously, the changes could help BT Sport increase its overall viewing figures and address criticisms surrounding a decline in people watching since it took over from rival Sky.

Audience figures have been a major talking point around the Champions League since BT Sport took over the exclusive broadcast rights. With no games airing on free-to-air channels, such as ITV, viewing figures declined, however BT Sport has attempted to make up the numbers by showing the finals for free on YouTube.

According to reports in the Guardian, the broadcaster is also exploring sub-licensing deals with free-to-air partners, such as Channel 4 and ITV.

Discussing the possibility of partnering with a free-to-air channel, John Petter, consumer chief executive at BT, said: “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.”

Petter continued: "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."

Uefa’s marketing director, Guy Laurent Epstein, added: “BT Sport has proved to be an innovative broadcast partner, pushing the boundaries and covering the Champions League and 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.”

As the bids were lodged last week BT boss, Gavin Patterson, called for an end to the “rampant inflation” in price for football TV rights and played down need the for exclusive rights to achieve its aims.

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