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BT Sport and UEFA: Poor European football viewing figures continue to cause concern

BT turned up the pressure on its rival Sky in November 2013 when it announced that it had acquired the rights to become the exclusive UK broadcaster of the UEFA Champions League from 2015. The Champions League is the pinnacle of European club football and the presence of clubs such as FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Real Madrid ensures that there is great global interest. The competitions final is now the worlds most-watched sporting event, attracting a global TV audience of around 180 million in 2015. By way of comparison, the NFLs Super Bowl attracted a peak audience of 111.9 million in the same year. The viewing figures illustrate just how crucial rights to this competition are and so BTs acquisition of them represents a major coup for a company looking to use it to add new broadband connections.

The current football season represents the first year of BT Sport’s Champions League and Europa League coverage and while the quality of the coverage and production has been praised, viewing figures have been poor. The selection of free-to-air matches has been much-maligned and BT has done little to market them. This has caused concern at UEFA headquarters as European football’s governing body worries that dismal viewing figures will deter big money sponsors in one of its ‘Big Five’ markets.

The acquisition of the rights and the establishing of dedicated sports channels have helped BT add new broadband and TV connections and grow this revenue stream. The UK’s leading telecommunications player will therefore want to ensure it has a good chance of retaining the rights at the next tender process, but must first convince UEFA that it is the right partner.