BT Go Sky High
On Saturday 9 November, it was announced that British Telecom (BT) had won the exclusive rights to show 350 live Champions League (CL) and Europa League (EL) matches in the UK for three seasons from the 2015-16 season. Since then £1.5bn has been wiped off BSkyB’s (Sky) stock market value.
BT has paid a reported £900m to UEFA for the live rights. Previously, Sky and ITV, who are the current incumbents, paid just under £400m. This deal is different to past agreements with UEFA in which the package of rights was split between two broadcasters. This time, BT has won all the available packages with the consequence that for the first time, no live CL or EL action will be available on terrestrial TV. It has been reported however that each UK club, once a season, will be screened free of charge on the BT platform including both CL and EL finals.
Previous exclusive screening deals resulted in the European Commission entering into a commitments agreement with the PL to ensure more than one broadcaster could win the live PL rights by having a number of packages. The commitments were designed to ensure (among other things) that new entrants could bid against incumbents and have an opportunity to secure one of the various and differently priced packages of rights that were available.
The Commission entered into commitments with UEFA too. As UEFA had previously provided live rights to ITV and Sky, exclusivity was not an issue for the UK market. Now however, with the BT deal, there may be question marks raised of the UEFA tender document especially as the Commission press release on the original commitments package with UEFA stated that UEFA’s new joint selling arrangements “will be split into two separate rights packages (the Gold and Silver packages) giving the winning broadcasters the right to pick the two best matches.”
Note the word "broadcasters" (plural) which presumably envisages more than one broadcaster winning the rights. UEFA may have convinced the Commission that BT's commitment to show a number of games on free-to-air, plus other concessions that have not yet been made public, means that consumers will not be disadvantaged by the new deal. However, there may be grounds for complaint from customers and competitors here.