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BT Sport set to give up NBA, UFC rights

UK pay-television broadcaster BT Sport is set to lose its rights to North American basketball league the NBA and mixed martial arts promotion the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Marc Allera, head of the BT Consumer division at the broadcaster’s parent company BT, said that deciding to give up the rights is part of BT Sport switching from having an “emotionally driven start-up mentality” when it launched five years ago to a more clinical assessment of rights deals.

He told the Financial Times newspaper: “It’s like a big football club in the transfer window. If a striker is worth £50m (€56.3m/$66.1m) I won’t pay £70m for him. At the wrong price, everything is expendable.”

The BBC said BT Sport will continue to show the NBA until the end of October and UFC until December 3. Earlier this month, international sports broadcaster Eleven Sports acquired rights for Italian Serie A top-tier football in the UK and Ireland from 2018-19 to 2020-21, content that was previously held by BT Sport.

The FT said Eleven is also set to pick up the UFC rights, but it is unclear whether it will also pursue the NBA.

The newspaper, citing senior executives within BT, said BT Sport is no longer considered a “core” element of the telco’s consumer offering, with more resources devoted to improving its network and customer service.

Allera added that the direct and indirect revenue generated by its sports channels does cover its costs, but there are plans to push BT Sport’s offering into new areas including smartphone and smart television deals.