Sky Sports is out of the Champions League game in Britain come 2015-16, but the big question is how will affect your soccer. In North American, we get neither Sky Sports (England’s current rights holders), ITV (part of the current, shared package), or BT Sport, where the contract will be rest until the 2017-18 tournament. Yet with the telecom giant playing over $1.4 billion dollars for the rights to broadcast Champions and Europe League in Britain, this is bound to have some influence on what you watch.
Consider what Sky had paid for the right to the tournament through 2014-15 – a three-year deal worth £400 million (or, $640 million). BT (British Telecom) Sport’s willingness to most-than double the previous price means a lot of money will trick down throughout Europe, with UEFA’s distributions to Champions League clubs likely to climb as a result of the sharp increase in the price of England’s rights. For those wary of the increasing divide between haves and have-nots, this isn’t good news.
More money will end up on the “in” side of the Champions League divide, those clubs who are habitual qualifiers able to calcify their spots among Europe’s elites. That’s already happening now, but as new deals like BT’s come into effect, the speed of that transition should increase.
Likewise, those on the inner circle — the clubs that make the knockout round every season, will see even more money. Each knockout round participant received between $4.7 million (Round of 16 exits) and $31.8 million extra (champions Bayern Munich). With BT’s huge outlay, there’ll be more money to go around.
In the long run, that means more money for the big boys to spend, a greater consolidation of talent, and the increased stature of Champions League as competition for the world’s elite talent.
At the same time, it’s senseless to lament the such mundane changes in the soccer landscape, especially when they represent that logical course of events. The Champions League is quickly becoming the soccer world’s premier commercial product, it’s annual footprint putting it in-league with the World Cup’s once very four years, cash-in all at once approach. As such, increased broadcast rights are inevitable. For a company like BT Sport looking to undermine Sky’s decades-long hegemony, over paying for Champions League is seems natural.
“We bid with a clear view of what the rights are worth to us. It seems BT chose to pay far in excess of our valuation,” a Sky spokesman said, via The Guardian. “We take a disciplined approach and there is always a level at which we will choose to focus on something else. If we thought it was worth more, we’d have paid more.”
“They would say that, wouldn’t they?” BT Retail Chief Executive John Petter said. “Secretly, I’d expect them to be kicking themselves and full of regrets this morning.”
The practical implications are what should be more worrisome than the price. With this deal, UEFA competitions are going to take a big shift away from terrestrial (read: free) broadcast in England, with ITV being cut out of the loop.
UEFA has reportedly insisted the finals of both competitions remain free-to-air, and BT has said every British team will be available free at least once per year, but with the new rights deal, it appears British fans will join their American peers, being dependent on some kind of pay service.
With us viewers in the States needing cable television (and sometimes, premium packages) to get all our soccer, we know: It’s not that bad. But for people in Britain, it could be a subtle, meaningful change.