BT leaves door open for sports deal with BSkyB

TELECOMS giant BT last night left the door open for a deal with BSkyB that would allow the rivals to broadcast each other’s sports channels.

BT have poached some of Sky's Champions League matches. Picture: Getty
BT have poached some of Sky's Champions League matches. Picture: Getty

BSkyB chief executive Jeremy Darroch told an investors’ conference in Barcelona yesterday that he would be open to a wholesale deal with BT to ensure customers have access to a full range of live sports.

Darroch, who will be in Edinburgh for BSkyB’s annual general meeting (AGM) tomorrow, said: “It’s a two-way thing and if we can get there with BT we’re open to that, we’re keen to do that, but we’ll have to see.”

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The comments were Darroch’s first in public since his company lost Champions League football match rights to BT’s £897 million bid.

BT launched its three sports channels in August, which have so far attracted more than two million customers.

The former state monopoly is trying to lure internet customers by making those channels free for broadband subscribers.

A BT spokesman told The Scotsman: “We have always said we will wholesale BT Sport where it makes commercial sense for both parties.

“BT has always been open to reaching a commercial deal with Sky but they have resisted this to date. We would like to be able to offer a wide range of Sky content on our YouView service, but so far this has not been addressed.”

BSkyB still controls the lion’s share of the lucrative Premier League, with the right to air 116 football matches through to the 2015-16 season. BT has rights for 38 games.

However, BT TV chief executive Marc Watson has warned that the sports channels are prepared to invest more “eye-watering sums” and are looking at the next round of Premier League TV rights. “It is too early to say what we will do in terms of the next Premier League rights,” Watson told a sports summit in Manchester.

“We are a big business and generate a lot of free cashflow, and if we think this is working for us and we see something that drives the business forward then we are in a position to invest.”

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Sam Hart, a media analyst at Charles Stanley, said it would probably take three years to determine whether the cash BT has splashed out on sporting rights is justified. Early signs seem to indicate that the seepage of customers to BSkyB and other broadband and telephone suppliers has slowed considerably.

If the two can agree on what they would charge each other in a wholesale deal, an agreement would make sense, he added.

However, BSkyB has accused BT of paying well over the odds for the Champions League.

“It is mutually convenient for both of them,” Hart said. “I would have thought one way or another they will come to an agreement in the longer-term.”

Darroch’s comments in Barcelona were viewed as an attempt to soothe investors’ fears about whether BSkyB can compensate for the loss of some of its best sporting rights.

He said the Champions League accounts for less than 3 per cent of viewing on Sky Sports, and added that BSkyB customers are watching more entertainment than sports.