August 18, 2013 5:52 pm

BT’s challenge to Sky live sport scores well

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Liverpool's Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (R) saves a penalty from Stoke City's Irish forward Jon Walters (L) during the season's opening Premier League football match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool, northwest England, on August 17, 2013. Liverpool won the match 1-0©Getty

Opening match of the Premier League provided an immediate test for BT Sports

The first live Premier League football match shown by BT was watched by a peak audience of 764,000 viewers, marking a respectable start to its attempt to challenge Sky’s 20-year dominance of live sports in the UK.

The opening match of the season between Liverpool and Stoke was shown exclusively by BT Sports on Saturday, providing an immediate test of the telecoms group’s ability to win viewers in a big-budget battle for football fans with Sky.

The early afternoon game also gave an insight into how BT would take what it had promised would be a fresh approach to sports broadcasting – in this case, with a familiar line-up of former football stars and pundits micro-analysing the game’s every kick and comment.

The game attracted the peak viewing audience of 764,000, and a match average of 629,000, according to figures compiled by Barb, the official source of TV viewing figures in the UK.

This was more than the 713,000 who watched ESPN’s opening game of last season between Newcastle and Tottenham, although less than the equivalent match shown by Sky at 12.45pm last season between Swansea and West Ham that drew 843,000 at its peak.

Simon Green, head of BT Sport, said: “Our audience compares very well with Sky’s first game last season despite them having had years to establish an audience, as opposed to weeks, and a bigger subscriber base.”

BT has a smaller potential audience at present than Sky, even if the numbers will have been boosted by the wholesale deal struck last week with Virgin. This added a further 2m potential watchers to the 1m BT customers who have signed up to the service.

Sky, meanwhile, attracted a record 3.1m for its first Premier League fixture of the season between Swansea and Manchester United later on Saturday evening, while 952,000 tuned in to the Championship match at the same time as BT’s fixture.

The right to 38 Premier League games a season cost BT about £6.5m a match.

Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT, told the FT last week that the subscription numbers had beaten expectations and predicted that viewer numbers would grow as their teams played.

Mr Green added that the Barb figures “don’t tell the whole story” because they excluded online or app viewers. He said there were “hundreds of thousands of customers” who can watch over platforms that Barb does not capture.

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