BT fires opening shot at Sky in new Champions League rights battle | Business

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BT has fired the first shot in the battle for Champions League football, saying it is determined to keep a grip on the TV rights to European football’s blue-riband club competition and accusing arch-rival Sky of having too much dominance over pay-TV sports.

BT is understood to have “done the rounds” of potential free-to-air partners, with Sky set to do the same, ahead of first round bids being submitted to the governing body Uefa in March.

Champions League sponsors have expressed concerns about the lack of exposure under BT’s £900m exclusive deal, compared with a pay/free deal with Sky and ITV which provided larger audiences.

To date Sky and BT have attempted to play down expectations of a bidding war, despite Uefa predicting the next three-year UK deal could go for as much as 30% more at about £1.2bn.

However, John Petter, chief executive of BT Consumer, who led the last bid, has admitted that BT has to hold on to the rights to continue to drive its pay-TV business.

Asked by City analysts if he thought BT Sport could thrive without the rights, he indicated that they were an essential part of its offering.

“I don’t want to comment on the future [without the rights], not least because our strong preference is to keep the Champions League,” he said.

Despite BT holding the rights for the Champions League, a slug of the Premier League and sports including English Premiership rugby, Petter says Sky still exercises too much dominance of the overall sports rights market.

“There is already a market problem because Sky has more than 70% of pay sports revenues in the marketplace now,” said Petter.

“It’s about the combination of the amount of sports rights they control and the absence of any regulation. If we had a 70% share of the broadband marketplace and the rates of [customers] switching [to rivals] were low and prices high people would say that isn’t a good thing for consumers. That is true of Sky Sports customers and nothing [regulatory] has really happened,” he said.

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