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Champions League football could soon be returning to UK terrestrial television, with Channel 4 emerging as an unlikely destination.
According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, the broadcaster is “exploring the prospect of buying one fixture per matchweek” from Europe’s top club competition when the new three year UK television contract goes up for auction next month.
Sky Sports and BT Sport will, as ever, battle it out for the majority of those rights, but Channel 4 has emerged as a potential partner in a deal that would see them sublet matches from either of the pay-TV broadcasters. Talks have reportedly already been held between Channel 4 and BT, although both have refused to confirm this.
UEFA have stipulated that some games under the current package, including the Champions League final, must be free-to-air.
The Champions League is currently shown exclusively by BT Sport in the UK, after they paid almost £900 million for the exclusive UK rights from the start of last season. It created the FTA channel BT Showcase in response to UEFA’s ruling for a number of FTA games, but viewing figures have been worryingly low for the channel. For example, a peak of just over a million viewers watched the first leg of Manchester United’s play-off against Club Brugge on pay channel BT Sport Europe in August. Despite the second leg being shown on BT Showcase, it attracted a peak audience of just 212,000. UEFA claims that BT has done a poor job of promoting the channel.
Channel 4 has not covered football since its Football Italia show, which featured live coverage of games from Italy’s Serie A league, ended in 2002. The channel is eager to extend its sporting output after losing horse-racing and F1 rights to ITV and Sky respectively.