MarketLine Blog

BT buys ESPN’s UK and Ireland channels

BT is proceeding full steam ahead on its mission to rival BSkyB as the UK’s leading sports broadcaster and today announced an agreement to buy the ESPN and ESPN America channels.

The deal, the details of which remain scarce, will allow BT to significantly increase its live sports coverage, with ESPN currently holding rights to show FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, Uefa Europa League, and German Bundesliga matches. The deal is expected to complete in July this year and if all goes to plan, will coincide perfectly with the planned launch of the company’s BT Sport TV package in the summer.

BT currently offers a broadcasting package through its BT Vision pay-TV offering, which has grown its subscriber base from 525,000 to around 700,000 in the last two years. However, since entering the market in 2006, BT Vision has failed to put a dent in BSkyB’s 10 million strong subscriber base as customers have preferred the live action offered by BSkyB to the highlights packages available on BT Vision. It would not be overstating the point to argue that live sport has in fact been the bedrock of Sky’s success.

This explains BT’s strong push for live content. BT had already secured the rights to show live English Premier League games for the first time from next season and has been investing heavily in its sports offering, including buying the rights to show live Aviva Premiership rugby union matches and signing a deal with the WTA to show women’s tennis.

BT has showed that it is serious about live sports coverage and has poached well-known sports presenters including Jake Humphrey, who led the BBC’s Formula One coverage, and Clare Balding, one of the faces of the BBC’s Olympics coverage.
BT will continue to show the US sports currently broadcast on ESPN America, namely college basketball, college football and Nascar, but ESPN Classic will cease transmission as part of the deal, which is believed to have cost BT ‘tens of millions.’

BSkyB’s dominance remains strong, but with BT upping its coverage and launching a flagship service based at London’s Olympic Park, it is no longer unrivalled. Whether it can mount a serious challenge to BSkyB remains to be seen, but if it does not, it certainly will not be for the want of trying.

To know more that how BSkyB is reacting to growing threats, see our case study British Sky Broadcasting Group: Increasing Market Share in the Face of New Threats

For an in-depth knowledge about BT, read our BT – Company Report.


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