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BT has stumped up £1.2bn to retain the rights to European football that will ease fears the company’s push into pay-TV was in danger of being derailed.

The auction of rights to the Champions League and Europa League was launched at a tricky time for BT, which is still in negotiations with Ofcom regarding an agreement over the future of its Openreach division and nursing a share price weakened by the accounting scandal at BT Italia.

That led to fears inside the company that Sky, emboldened by the takeover offer from Fox, may strike while BT was vulnerable to win back the rights to European football games that it unexpectedly lost in 2013. There were also concerns that UEFA, the football body, was not pleased with ratings on BT’s pay-TV sports channels although the UK company dismissed that criticism.

BT has paid £394m per season for the three-year deal which runs between 2018 and 2021. That is 32 per cent higher than the £299m it paid last time.

There are however 35 per cent more slots including 6pm and 8pm scheduled games which analysts said would be good for pubs and clubs. BT is also able to show the games to a wider base having acquired EE, the country’s largest mobile network.

John Petter, head of consumer at BT, said:

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.

Sam McHugh, an analyst with Exane BNP Paribas, said that a £1.1bn cost of the rights was expected so BT has paid more than expected. However the auction win does remove a key hurdle for the recovery of BT’s share price given the risk if it had lost its European football rights.

Read more: BT plans to end free TV football (Jan 2017)

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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