Comment: BT football coup may prove to be own goal

Terry Murden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Terry Murden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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TO CALL it a game changer is probably an understatement. BT Sport has bagged the rights to show top European football for three years in a deal that will have significant implications for the game and the broadcasting sector.

BT will pay £897.6 million for exclusive coverage of all 350 matches each season from 2015. It will mean no matches appearing on terrestrial television and put a hole in ITV Sport’s plans. It also puts more pressure on BSkyB, which is already feeling the pinch from BT’s domestic football and rugby deals.

The twittersphere went into orbit when the news broke yesterday morning, dividing opinion on whether it was a good thing for viewers and football followers. BT itself claimed the deal will not impact on its financial outlook. Indeed, it expects it to drive further growth, particularly in broadband take-up, over the medium term which is what this is really all about.

Aside from questions about how it is really finding almost £1 billion without disrupting its balance sheet, BT customers will want to know how long BT Sport will remain free to broadband subscribers. The company must also hope that British teams continue to do well in these competitions, as viewing figures will tail off in the event of early elimination.

BSkyB claimed BT paid “far in excess” of its own valuation of the contract. But the next move will be for the satellite broadcaster to take and its statement yesterday teasingly hinted at focusing on “something else”. It has 18 months left on the current Champions League contract to tell us what that might be.

Gilbert’s Swip plan threatened

MARTIN Gilbert’s hopes of buying Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (Swip) to create a game changer of his own are hanging in the balance.

Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, wants a tie-up with Swip that would make the combined business the biggest listed fund management group in Europe.

But as The Scotsman reported yesterday, US sources believe the Australian investment bank Macquarie is about to pounce with a £500m cash bid to rival Gilbert’s cash and shares offer.

The markets marked Aberdeen’s shares sharply lower on doubts that it could pull off the deal and, more to the point, whether it would be in shareholders’ interests. One analyst noted its return on equity in a dozen recent acquisitions has been lower than the cost of buying it.

The obvious winner would be Swip owner Lloyds, as a bidding war would push up the price paid for Swip and there is every chance others might be drawn in.

London airports battle hots up

AN INTERESTING development today in the battle to expand landing capacity at the London airports (see Page 21). While attention has focused on the third runway at Heathrow, an independent group wants to create four airstrips.

Heathrow boss Colin Matthews is trying to keep his own plans airborne, while Gatwick is putting up a credible alternative for expansion by claiming it wins on noise and cost issues.

The outcome affects all travellers through London, so it is no surprise that Scots are among those being canvassed for support. Matthews was in Glasgow last week and Gatwick boss Stewart Wingate last month. Expect more trips north.

Twitter: @TerryMurden1

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