BT Sport schedule talks over proposed sale of TV rights

Craig Humpage 4 weeks ago
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Telecomms giant BT opens discussions ahead of possible sale of sports wing including Premier League and Champions League match rights

By Craig Humpage
Editor-in-Chief, Sporticos
Published on Wednesday 12 May 2021

BT Group PLC are looking to adapt their stake in sports rights. It is unclear yet as to whether they will sell everything, look to partner up with another provider or only sell off some of their sports properties. As the British internet provider looks to switch focus to improving their broadband services, they’re entering into talks about how to offload some of their deal which could include live Premier League and UEFA Champions League games.

But why are BT looking to sell?

It is understood that BT are hoping to invest £12.5bn in upgrading their broadband network, including wider access to full-fibre broadband and 5G mobile services. To do this, they are said to be looking at freeing up billions of pounds from their sports wing. They are moving in the direction of an aggregated platform, showcasing their own content, as well as that of other providers like Netflix, Amazon and once fierce rivals Sky. They are expected to simply sell off some of their stake but the dissolution of BT Sport itself entirely is not off the table.

A BT spokesperson said: “Further to media reports, BT can confirm that early discussions are being held with a number of select strategic partners to explore ways to generate investment, strengthen our sports business and help take it to the next stage in its growth."

“The discussions are confidential and may or may not lead to an outcome.”

Who are the potential buyers for BT Sport?

Amazon, Disney and DAZN are said to be keen on picking up the rights to BT's sport portfolio. Amazon have been dipping their toes in the water in the past couple of years, partnering most recently with La Liga TV, as well as picking up the exclusive rights to two full Premier League rounds of fixtures last December. Disney, the owners of US sports network ESPN, are interested in entering the European market through their streaming service Disney+, and this could be their first foray into sport on these shores. Sports streaming service DAZN are mostly known in the UK for their boxing coverage but in Europe they are big into football. They just beat Sky to the rights for Serie A in the UK and are keen on expanding. This proposed sale could be an opportunity for them to increase their influence.

None of the three have made their intentions known but they are the most likely suitors as football coverage and sport in general move toward live streaming and away from traditional broadcast.

What could a sale of BT Sport mean for sports broadcasting?

Were BT to sell or partner with a streaming company, this could represent a huge change in how sport is consumed in the UK. Many believe that the old school pay TV model is on the way out and this could be one of the final nails in the coffin. If DAZN, Disney or Amazon pick up BT Sport's catalogue, this would push even more fans online, where arguably many of them would prefer to be. The flexibility of watching on numerous devices wherever you want is enticing more and more people toward the pay monthly subscription model as traditional broadcasters struggle to keep up. Whichever of the three buyers are successful will have a major foothold in UK sports coverage.

A less likely winner could be free-to-air broadcaster ITV, who have apparently thrown their hat into the ring. If they can pick up the football coverage which BT took from them 10 years ago, they would be back in the picture. Champions League football would be free again, which would of course be welcomed by those fans who don't want or can't afford a subscription to a streaming service. This would represent a return to normalcy but it's difficult to ignore the influence of the online providers who will surely keep on coming until they increase their market share.

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