Well here’s a turn-up, UK landline telephone operator BT (formerly the nationalised British Telecommunications) has outbid the mighty Disney-owned global sports channel ESPN for the rights to show roughly a third of live Premier League football games over the next three years.
BSkyB’s Sky Sports keeps the majority of games, bidding £2.28bn for its games against BT’s £746m. This brings the Premier League’s take to just over £3bn over the next three years, not a massive jump but reasonable enough in today’s straightened circumstances.
So has ESPN decided not to compete in the UK or did it just get its bid wrong? And will football help to propel BT into a new life as a digital entertainment company?
ESPN broadcasts some live rugby in the UK as well as football in continental Europe. Whichever way you look at it, being outbid for Premier League games looks like a disaster if it really wants to grow in Europe.
As for BT, it needs to show that it can put together a football broadcasting system from scratch, not the easiest thing in the world however much technology you think you have at your disposal. And BT has been less than deft at its bids to expand out of boring old telephony to date.
BSkyB will be happy because it hasn’t had to face a serious bid for the main contract from either ESPN or Qatar-backed Al-Jazeera. If BSkyB lost Premier League football it would be toast.
And the Premier League? It’ll be happy with the money but a mite concerned that its top two bidders were British. It keeps telling us that the PL is a global brand, after all.