BT scores ESPN channels for live sports acquisition trail

The telecoms giant has agreed to purchase ESPN's UK and Ireland TV channels to beef up its growing portfolio of live sport assets.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
BT has been on something of a warpath in sports television recently and, in its latest move, it has agreed to purchase ESPN and ESPN America TV channels, which carry live broadcast rights for the FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, the Uefa Europa League and the German Bundesliga. 

It all comes as part of a broader strategy for BT, which has recently secured live premiership rugby broadcasting rights for this year for £152m, as well as completing the £700m deal for the rights to broadcast 38 Premier League football matches. The firm evidently has designs on Sky Sports largely monopolistic position in sports broadcasting – although Sky retains the rights for 116 games in the season, for which it paid a much heftier £2.28bn.

Anyway, this latest BT deal comes just a few months before the firm launches BT Sport TV, a channels package on its BT Vision home television service. BT Retail chief executive of television Marc Watson said: ‘We are delighted to have reached agreement with ESPN for the acquisition of its UK channels business and that we have been able to add some exiting new sports rights to the ones we already have.’

He added: ‘The FA Cup, Scottish Premier League and Europa League rights will allow us to offer customers of BT Sport even more live football, including our first games from the Scottish top flight and our first European competition rights.’

The deal means BT has yet again stepped up its threat to Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB, which has built its entire business on the strength of the sports broadcasting market – traditionally, people buy Sky packages because Sky owns all the broadcasting rights. Thanks to BT, this exclusivity is being lost and, with it, Murdoch’s grip on the UK’s pay-TV market. You could see the whole thing as a defensive move on BT's part in response to Sky moving in on its broadband and phoneline offerings.

MT predicts that Murdoch will have to get pretty aggressive in terms of prices – ie, paying giant sums for the next round of rights – to shut BT out. But now that BT has all but sorted out its pension deficit woes, this could be a titanic battle…

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