BT ready to spend again on sports rights after launch

LONDON Thu Oct 10, 2013 4:46pm BST

A production staff member works in the gallery during the BT Sport channel launch program at the BT Sport studio in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in east London August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

A production staff member works in the gallery during the BT Sport channel launch program at the BT Sport studio in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in east London August 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

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LONDON (Reuters) - BT said on Thursday it wanted to acquire more sports broadcast rights amid market speculation that it could bid to show European Champions League Football on its new British TV channels.

The former state telecoms company has already invested a billion pounds in BT Sport, moving into an area long dominated by pay-TV company BSkyB.

Speaking to a Football industry conference, new BT CEO Gavin Patterson declined to comment directly on Champions League rights that will be sold in the coming months but said BT had more money to spend.

"This is a long-term strategy for us, so you can expect us to do a lot more in the future if the right opportunity to create value presents itself," he told the Leaders in Football Conference at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium.

Champions League television coverage in Britain is shared between BSkyB and commercial free-to-air broadcaster ITV under a three-year-deal worth a reported 400 million pounds that expires in 2015.

BT is offering the sports service it launched in August free to its broadband customers to try to prevent companies like BSkyB from further eating into its share of that market.

Patterson, the former head of BT's Retail division who was promoted to CEO last month, said that spending on sport represented only around 10 percent of the company's free cash flow over the next three years.

BT is stepping in after Irish-based Setanta and ESPN, majority owned by Disney, struggled to make inroads into BSkyB's dominance in recent years.

Patterson said he believed there was room to expand the market and for both BT and BSkyB to prosper.

"We believe we can co-exist. Our success does not require their failure," Patterson said.

"We want to expand the market. We want BT Sport to be about more than just blokes and football," he added.

CLUBS CASH IN

English football's Premier League clubs saw a 70 percent increase in the value of their domestic TV deal after BT came into the market as the second broadcaster behind BSkyB.

Football and rugby union are the mainstays of the new BT Sport channels. The former telecoms monopoly is paying 246 million pounds a year for the live rights to 38 Premier League matches.

BSkyB remains the main rights holder for live Premier League Football action in Britain, spending 760 million pounds for its 116 matches.

BT said in August that more than one million people had signed up for its sports services, against an estimated five million who subscribe to BSkyB's sports programming.

"Compared with its predecessors Setanta and ESPN, we can say that BT has made a promising start as the latest partner in the premium sports duopoly. Yet, BT remains very much the junior subordinate partner," industry body Enders Analysis said in a report last week.

(Editing by David Cowell)

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