The weekend’s news that BT has scooped up the entire Champions League and Europa League rights has prompted a lot of discussion, speculation and, in some quarters, complaints and even anger.
Many fans who already pay for Sky Sports have been taking to Twitter to and TV and sports forums to complain that they’re likely to have to pay for a second subscription to continue watching matches they already get.
BT hasn’t announced any firm pricing plans, but its bosses have been quoted as saying the games will need to be paid for.
Fans are asking whether this means an end to free BT Sport for the firm’s broadband customers or a separate European football channel which is sold as a bolt-on.
And there’s been understandable grumpy comments from the non-sports fans among BT’s phone and broadband customer base who are concerned they’ll end up footing some of the bill.
It’s also worth considering whether Virgin Media’s contract for BT Sport will entitle them to any add-on channel or whether the cable company will have to pay again in order to offer its customers the complete football experience.
If it does, how likely is it that the firm could afford to give the games away to customers on its XL package as it does with the current BT channels? The company has already admitted that recent deals with BT and Sky have driven up its content acquisition costs.
Amid the anger and fervent speculation has been the suggestion (and, in some cases) hope that BT might “do a Setanta” and go bust or be forced to sell some of the rights back to ITV or Sky in order to finance the deal.
That’s not going to happen.
BT has annual profits in the region of £2.5bn. The £900m cost of the three-year deal is scarcely a third of a single year’s profits.
Nor does this deal limit what BT has available for the next round of Premier League rights. Indeed, it’s highly likely that the money funding the Champions League and Europa League deals was originally earmarked for the last Premier League auction in which BT won only 2 of the packages up for grabs.
Could failure last year have helped BT steal the European games? Has Sky’s overwhelming success in the PL auction turned out to be something of a pyrrhic victory?
On the other side of the Sky/BT fan debate has been the twin suggestions that the weekend’s loss is the end of the satellite giant or that Sky will be forced to lower its prices to retain custom.
The idea of Sky vanishing because it loses any of the sports currently shown on Sky Sports is as daft as thinking BT will go bust because of this deal.
The company now has £450m to spend on other content which will help it retain its sizeable army of Pay-TV aficionados and keep its reputation as a provider of must-see premium content.
What some in both fan bases agree on is that BT’s willingness to bid big is at least in part driven by its inability to secure Sky Sports for its BT from YouView users.
The suggestion here is that BT has decided to give up on negotiating with Sky and take over the channels one rights deal at a time.
If the advocates of this notion are right, would a sudden long-term deal to wholesale Sky Sports to BT make the broadband giant less likely to chase Sky’s crown jewels?
Would the company find it harder to justify similar large deals to shareholders if they could already offer the same content to customers at a far lower acquisition cost?
Might the drop in Sky’s share price – as much as 9.80% at one point this morning – from the loss of a single rights package encourage the firm to reconsider its willingness to do a deal?
Even if the two rivals do a deal, it’s clear that both will fight to win and retain certain key sports meaning the costs of certain rights will keep on defying gravity and fans will have to keep digging deeper to continue watching.