Regular viewers of the Champions League – let alone those that fork out to follow their teams around the continent – will know that watching Europe’s premier competition doesn’t come cheap. But the true scale doesn’t really hit you until you find out that BT Sport could pay up to £1.2bn for TV rights until 2021.
In case you missed it, the deal they hashed out gives BT exclusive coverage of the Champions League in the UK (hence the inflated price), and whilst there is no word yet on whether this will lead to a hike in subscription fees for customers, it spells bad news if you’re a regular old fan.
The headline is that there are now no free-to-air games on terrestrial TV. In fact, ITV have lost out on their right to air a highlights show rounding up the week’s action (which will come as a big blow if you enjoy seeing Roy Keane verbally burying players who attempt an even slightly ostentatious celebration).
BT Sport has proved to be an innovative broadcast partner, pushing the boundaries and covering the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in new ways.
Guy Laurent Epstein, UEFA marketing director
To their credit, BT have shown some mercy to those who can’t afford to shell out on their premium rate service: the final (of both the Champions and the Europa League) will be available to all, whilst clips are going to be uploaded on the website, so you don’t have to watch them on YouTube (with Sandstorm by Darude playing in the background). Having said that, we’re not clear on what kind of highlights spread they will lay on – don’t expect it to be anywhere near as comprehensive as ITV’s.
This is much needed – after all, viewing figures for the Champions League are down in a big way, and it’s not just because illegal streaming is becoming more commonplace. It’s also because the regular fan no longer feels a connection to the exaggerated (and often cringe-inducing) glamour of the once romantic European Cup (and probably won’t do for as long as the sponsors get first dibs on ticket allocation).
Then there are concerns around the product itself. Whilst nobody can deny the Champions League is capable of producing history-making moments – of which Barcelona’s stunning comeback against PSG this week was a timely reminder – it’s also a little repetitive. We see the same ties year on year, and although it’s kind of amusing to watch Arsenal get hammered by Bayern every February, viewers crave variety.
BT (and, apparently, UEFA – since they are prepared to make the telecom giants their only UK broadcaster) seem to think the answer to the rising viewer apathy is to glitz up the presentation. By making the coverage more exciting – i.e. bringing in the likes of Gary Lineker, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, and err… Owen Hargreaves – the fans will then be more prepared to part with their cash.
In practice, it doesn’t really make a difference – and the fact that some are prepared to watch it on a dodgy stream with foreign commentary proves that. Most would rather just have stripped back, basic coverage – with the caveat that the prices were more reasonable (or, and this is looking a little pie in the sky at this point, we simply went back to the glory days of Tuesday night games on ITV).