Amazon and BBC break BT stranglehold on Champions League football

Amazon has broken BT’s stranglehold on live Champions League football in the UK and highlights are set to air on the BBC for the first time in a new deal starting in 2024. BT has retained the lion’s share of the Champions League rights, securing UK rights for 187 of the 204 games in the new expanded format from 2024, while also cutting the price of the next three-year deal by 23% to £917m.

BT, which has aired Uefa’s men’s club tournaments exclusively in the UK since 2015 after beating the then joint holders Sky and ITV with a blockbuster £900m bid, paid £1.2bn at the last auction, in 2019.

Amazon, which in 2018 broke BT and Sky’s duopoly control over Premier League football rights, has secured 17 first-pick Champions League matches on Tuesday nights, in the US retailer and streaming giant’s biggest UK sports-rights deal. “The addition of Uefa Champions League football is a truly momentous moment for Prime Video in the UK,” said Alex Green, the managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe, who has struck similar deals in Italy and Germany.

From 2024 the BBC will become the home of highlights with a new Wednesday-night Match of the Day. Champions League coverage has not been on terrestrial TV since the end of the 2014-15. “Our reach and ability to bring people together is unrivalled and we couldn’t be more delighted that Uefa have recognised the value in our ability to bring the Uefa Champions League to the widest possible audience across the UK,” said Barbara Slater, the BBC’s director of sport.

Under the deal, BT will continue to have exclusive UK broadcast rights to the Europa League and Europa Conference League, meaning a total of 533 games including Champions League matches – a 27% increase reflecting the expansion of the Uefa club competitions from 2024. “BT Sport continues to be the home of Uefa club competitions until 2027,” said Marc Allera, the chief executive of BT’s consumer division. “From 2024 we will be able to show more games than ever before, live and exclusive.”

However, observers questioned whether the loss of exclusive rights for BT’s crown jewel sports asset could hurt the company. Amazon’s limited number of games are first-pick, which the company has said guarantees they will be coveted matches featuring English teams, up until the semi-finals if they progress that far, and the BBC’s highlights deal may prove enticing for viewers concerned about the soaring cost of household bills, including pay-TV.

Overall, Uefa is estimated to have upped the value of its rights from £1.2bn to about £1.5bn in its latest auction. “Uefa has been able to increase the value of the rights by opening up the tender and packages to more players,” said Paolo Pescatore, an independent analyst at PP Foresight. “This will not go down well with fans if they’re forced to fork out more during these unprecedented times with the higher cost of living. While BT Sport loses exclusivity, it provides long-term certainty going into the joint venture with Discovery, providing fans with more games and for less money.”

Last month BT struck a £633m deal with the US media company Warner Bros Discovery to create a joint venture pay-TV sport business combining BT Sport and Eurosport, home to rights including pan-European Olympics coverage. BT has said that despite the dilution of its control of rights it will continue to make the final available for free; to date it has had a deal in place with YouTube. The new joint venture may, or may not, decide to continue to use YouTube as its free-to-air platform.