31st Aug 2013

BT Sport: Promising Beginnings

This month saw the start of a new UK-based sports network, BT Sport, with two channels, available on subscription and carried by some content providers like Virgin Media.

Last year BT Sport won the rights from ESPN to show 38 live English Premier League games per season for the 2013-16 rights period. Subsequently the network bought ESPN’s UK channels and other broadcasting rights, including English domestic rugby union, Bundesliga (German) and Serie A (Italian) league football as well as Europa League games.

And so far the coverage, especially football-related, has been impressive. Presenters like Ray Stubbs and Jake Humphrey do a decent job, and pundits of the calibre of Michael Owen, David James and Steve McManaman (the 90s spice boys no less!) provide for intelligent discussion and speculation.

ESPN did a reasonable job back in 2009, when the US network effectively took on part of the catastrophic debt that led to the collapse of Setanta Sports UK, in return for their modest programming portfolio. But the fact that ESPN went to the last Premier League bidding table with a half-hearted proposal suggests not only that the American media firm (owned by the Disney conglomerate) had lost interest in English football, but that its US-domestic audience continued to show lukewarm interest in the sport. The MLS league has done well in recent years, thanks in no small part to Beckham’s days at LA Galaxy, but Americans have not caught the EPL fever to anything like the same degree as audiences in parts of Asia and elsewhere.

So… so far, so good for BT Sport. It remains a minor player in comparison with Murdoch’s sports media empire, of course. But let’s hope it can become a serious competitor to Sky come the next bidding rounds for major football and other sports rights. After, the telecommunications company that famously floated on the stock exchange thirty or so years ago, and is now one of the biggest British companies of any sector, cannot be short of a bob or two.

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