BT throws wobbly over cost of football then coughs up anyway

Only days after BT CEO Gavin Hasselhoff Patterson threw a public temper tantrum over the cost of sporting broadcast rights, his company signed a £1.18 billion cheque for European football.

BT has announced it will be the exclusive home of all UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League football in the UK, from the beginning of the 2018/19 season in a three-year deal. At a time when BT has been taking criticism from Openreach moaners for favouring expenditure in areas other than network upgrades, the operator will fork out £394 million a year for three years to step up its content game.

“We are delighted to have renewed these rights,” said John Petter, Consumer CEO at BT. “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.”

The announcement comes a matter of days after Group CEO Patterson blasted the sports market in general at the annual Enders Analysis conference in London for the rising price of sports rights, according to the Guardian. While the increasing price to play in the sports arena is indeed making it difficult to compete, it is difficult to sympathise with Patterson considering BT could partially be to blame for a 70% hike in the price of Premier League football after a battle with Sky in 2012.

In terms of the price to play, one has to question where the line is. How much is too much; can BT continue to justify paying such an expense for a value add to sweeten the deal for customers? Or is it entering into a market where it becomes a product in its own right?

At MWC, we had a quick chat with Francesco Venturini, who leads the media and technology business at Accenture, who highlighted telcos need to operate in the more sustainable services market, as opposed to remaining a product centric business. If data and owning access to the customer is the new currency in the digital economy, BT needs to ensure such lavish expenditures are not passed onto the customer; maintaining the garden wall is paramount as opposed to charging the customers directly.

While the win does provide BT with a bit more ammo to challenge Sky in the premium content space, Paolo Pescatore Analyst at CCS Insight, shared the same pricing concerns.

“With this latest move, the company can continue to be innovative, however, there will be ongoing concerns on whether this cost will be passed onto consumers,” said Pescatore. “Worryingly for consumers the escalating cost of premium content rights means that we will probably have to fork out more money which may drive some to watch via illegal streams.”

The multi-play world has been a long-time ambition of the BT exec business, and it does look to appear to have found a successful formula, but whether the expense of this recipe is low enough to reap the highly promised rewards remains to be seen.

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