February 17, 2013 10:01 pm

BT in talks to acquire ESPN football

Champions League football©Getty

BT is in discussions to acquire football rights from sports broadcaster ESPN as the Disney-owned channel explores an exit from the UK.

The interest comes as the UK telecoms operator plans to roll out as many as three sports channels to broadcast football, rugby and other sports content it has already acquired for almost £1bn.


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ESPN rights that are being touted for sale include broadcast rights to certain matches from the German Bundesliga, the Europa League and the English FA Cup. BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster, is also interested in the assets.

Analysts estimate that acquiring the three rights together would cost about £20m annually. But they noted how increased interest in sports rights from pay TV operators had driven up costs for content.

Last summer, BT paid £738m for the rights to 32 Premier League football games per season for three years in a move that put it in direct competition for sports rights with BSkyB. It has since acquired the rights to broadcast live Premiership rugby matches and WTA live tennis.

BT is finalising plans for the launch of its TV service before the summer, which will include details about the different platforms and interactive services that the company will use to sell its sports content to customers.

Analysts expect further smaller sports rights deals before the summer, as well as the development of interactive ways to watch and join in services over broadband connections.

BT is still working on the commercial strategy ahead of the launch. As well as over its own TV and broadband platforms, BT will sell its sports directly to Sky users having secured channels on its rival’s platform. BT has also begun to talk to Virgin Media about selling its sports content on a wholesale basis for the company to use.

Even with a wholesale model, analysts expect the TV channel to be loss making over the next five years on its own, although the strategy for BT is to bundle the TV service with its home phone and broadband packages in a so-called “triple play” service.

The company is also working on an enhanced set top box for its TV customers, with the existing YouView connected TV device unable to show BT Sports. Customers for its sporting content currently need to use its older BT Vision box, but those with knowledge of the company’s plans said that there would be an “enhanced” YouView box before the summer. Existing YouView boxes will be updated with new software automatically.

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