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BT chief plays down importance of Premier League rights ahead of auction

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson has played down the importance of exclusive Premier League football rights to the business model of the UK telco’s pay-television broadcaster BT Sport, stating the company has a “Plan B” in place should it miss out in the forthcoming rights auction.

Patterson was speaking as BT today (Friday) disclosed its financial results for the third quarter. The Premier League’s live domestic broadcast rights are currently on the market, with bids due next week.

A total of 200 live football matches per season were made available through seven packages outlined in a tender document issued by the Premier League in December for the next cycle of domestic rights.

The total figure, which will apply to each of the three seasons from 2019-20 to 2021-22, represents an increase from the 168 games per campaign that are currently broadcast live by BT Sport and fellow pay-television broadcaster Sky.

Asked if BT’s business model could work if it failed to enjoy success in the auction, Patterson said, according to UK newspaper The Guardian: “Yes, absolutely. I don’t want in any way to diminish the importance of the Premier League of course, and the Premier League’s importance to us. But it is one of a broad set of rights. We will be competitive but ultimately won’t go beyond the price it is worth to us.”

In March 2017, BT Sport maintained its hold on rights to Uefa club football competitions in the UK by extending its contract for the Champions League and Europa League. The new three-season deal will run across the 2018-19 to 2020-21 campaigns and will be worth around £394m (€462.6m/$490.9m) per year, or £1.182bn in total.

Patterson highlighted the Champions League rights, which helped boost BT Sport viewing figures by a record 23 per cent in the final quarter of 2017, as an example of the broadcaster’s wider sports portfolio.

“We continue to see Premier League content as an important part of BT Sport, but it is only one part,” he said. “It is one we like and it has performed well for us. We know what it is worth to us and we model that and we bid up to, and no further, than the value of it. We always have a ‘Plan B’ if we don’t get what we want.”

In December, BT and Sky sealed a landmark multi-year deal to make channels available on each other’s platforms. BT TV customers will be able to sign up for all content available via Sky’s Now TV platform, including Sky Sports channels. BT will also be able to sell subscriptions to Now TV’s passes directly to BT customers.

At the same time, BT has agreed to wholesale its BT Sport channels to Sky, allowing Sky to sell these channels directly to its satellite customers. It is expected that these new services will be available to customers from early 2019 and Patterson said the deal will not affect its bidding strategy for the Premier League rights.