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BT defends Euro football exclusivity

John Petter, CEO of BT’s Consumer division, has defended the telco’s securing of exclusive UK rights to Europe’s top club football competitions, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

Currently, free-to-air broadcaster ITV shows highlights of Champions league games, with News Limited sharing clips rights with BT. Under the £1.2 billion (1.38), three-year deal set to begin from the 2018-19 season, BT has all such rights exclusively.

In conversation with BBC financial journalist Sally Bundock at a Royal Television Society event in London, Petter refuted suggestions that it had over-bid for the rights. “I don’t know what Sky bid,” he said, suggesting bidding would have been a “rational” move for the operator to make. Petter pointed out that for the first time, it was not the challenger in bidding for such rights.

According to Petter, the exclusivity would enable BT to commercialise further the rights via different media, in particular via social media platforms. “There are good commercial opportunities,” he said, noting that there would now be 35 per cent more broadcasting slots, with four English sides now guaranteed entry to the Champions League group stages.

He deflected the suggestion that competition sponsors would be concerned at the lack of terrestrial coverage. “It’s UEFA that makes the ultimate decision,” he pointed out, suggesting that there would be a greater audience reach via social media.

He noted the success of BT’s screening of the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League finals on You Tube, and revealed that going forward, BT was looking to find the right partners for the current season and would then turn its attention to the next three years.

He said there was “no obligation” to sub-let the highlights rights to another UK broadcaster. “We don’t need to,” he said, hinting that if there was “a deal out there”, it may talk to interested parties. “We talk to people all the time,” he admitted, while stressing that BT had “a great Plan A” in terms of its exploitation of the rights.

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