As reported earlier, Virgin Media is adding BT’s new BT Sport Europe channel to its top-tier XL channel pack, but to do so it’s having to charge every XL subscriber an extra £3 even if they don’t want to watch the channel.

The press release which relayed this news to journalists is a masterful work of spin:

“After BT paid an extra 127% for the Champions League and Europa League TV rights for three years and a total of £6bn was spent on the rights for UEFA and Premier League competitions, Virgin Media will be introducing a £3 per month increase to its TV XL packages from September 1st having worked to minimise the rising cost of sports on customers.”

But the link between BT’s bid for the Champions League and Virgin’s decision to shove all XL subscribers’ costs up isn’t as direct as the cable firm wants you to think – Virgin Media CHOSE to do this even though other options were available to it.

When BT Sport launched in 2013, Virgin decided to bundle BT Sport in its XL package and, initially at least, eat most of the cost of doing so.

It could have instead sold the channels as an add-on just as it does to customers on cheaper packages and does with Sky Sports and Sky Movies. But because it’d already conditioned XL subscribers to expect ‘free’ Premier League by bundling ESPN, the firm knew it risked mass defections if the only place to keep getting ‘free’ football was from BT.

Even the initial delay in announcing its deal to show the channels lost it some customers, as its own accounts and market updates confirmed at the time.

As recently confirmed by BT, the original deal Virgin entered into only guaranteed access to BT Sport 1, 2 and ESPN so it’s had to go back and negotiate a separate deal to offer BT Sport Europe.

Obviously there was always going to be a charge to Virgin for the extra channel, that was inescapable, but to claim that it’s “worked to minimise the rising cost of sports on customers” while slapping up the costs paid by non-sports viewers is a statement of dubious accuracy.

Any XL customer who doesn’t watch sports is now seeing their monthly tariff increase by £3 simply because Virgin chose to keep bundling BT Sport in with the channel pack. How has the “the rising cost of sports” been minimised for them?

What Virgin Media has actually done is artificially lower the price sports fans will pay to watch the content they want to see by splitting the costs with people who have zero interest in European football.

They’re perfectly entitled to price their products that way, but it’s a bit rich to try passing that off as being on the side of the hard-pressed TV viewer.

Virgin Media’s email to journalists:

Virgin Media has today confirmed that it will continue to be the only provider to offer all the football and major sporting action with one subscription as it adds the new BT Sport Europe channel in HD to its TV XL bundles.

After BT paid an extra 127% for the Champions League and Europa League TV rights for three years and a total of £6bn was spent on the rights for UEFA and Premier League competitions, Virgin Media will be introducing a £3 per month increase to its TV XL packages from September 1st having worked to minimise the rising cost of sports on customers.

TV XL is offered as part of its Big Daddy and Big Kahuna Bundles which includes 152Mb broadband. The price rise is a result of the charges we have to pay BT to add BT Sport Europe to our BT Sport pack.

BT Sport Europe in SD & HD will also be included in the BT Sport bolt-on package available to non-TV XL customers (e.g. a customer with a smaller TV package). The price for this will increase by £3 from £15 to £18 per month with no activation fee.

Having urged Ofcom to investigated the sale of Premier League TV rights, Virgin Media has ensured its customers will face a smaller price rise (£3) than BT customers (£6 per month for full HD) and Sky customers (£7.49) to receive these new channels in both SD & HD. Having added BT Sports 1&2 in SD & HD to TV XL packages at no increased cost when they launched in 2013, the current price increase is less than the increase BT is imposing on its customers.

Gregor McNeil, Managing Director of Virgin Media Consumer, said: “Some of our prices are changing so we can continue to offer our customers the best choice of entertainment. The new Champions League deal is the biggest ever and our price change reflects our continued investment in giving our customers more of what they want – we are proud to remain the only provider to offer all the major sporting action in one place.”

In addition to BT Sport Europe HD, we have also added more HD channels including Nat Geo Wild HD and Lifestyle HD to our TV XL packages and will be making SD versions of BT Sport channels available to stream via the Virgin TV Anywhere app.

These changes are being communicated to customers via email & letter this week. Customers who take any of the bundles below will be entitled to exit their contract. Customers who by BT Sports as a standalone product £18 per month) can cancel that product.

Price changes:

Source: Virgin Media press office
Source: Virgin Media press office

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