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Free Premier League? ITV in running for BT's sports business

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LaToya Harding
·Contributor
·3-min read
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Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford has this freekick saved during the English Premier League football match between Leeds United and Manchester United at Elland Road in Leeds, northern England on April 25, 2021. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The partnership deal, which is reportedly still in early discussions, would see ITV take a stake in BT Sport which opens the possibility that top flight football matches in the Premier League and Champions League could be aired on terrestrial TV. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/POOL/AFP via Getty

ITV (ITV.L) is in the race for BT’s (BT-A.L) sports business, it has emerged, putting it against contenders such as Amazon (AMZN), Disney (DIS) and private equity companies.

The partnership deal, which is reportedly still in early discussions, would see ITV take a stake in BT Sport which opens the possibility that top flight football matches in the Premier League and Champions League could be aired on terrestrial TV.

The move could result in a partial sale of BT Sport, a joint venture, or other structures made to allow BT to concentrate on its broadband business as the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on live sport, the Telegraph first revealed.

It is investing £12.5bn ($17.4bn) to upgrade most of the UK’s internet network to next-generation full-fibre broadband, and is spending billions on building its 5G mobile network.

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Since 2015, BT Sport has held rights to the Champions League — it paid almost £900m to secure exclusive rights. The competition was previously shared by ITV and Sky.

Analysts have speculated that a 50% stake in BT Sport could be worth as much as £500m, the newspaper said.

BT and ITV already have a partnership in YouView, the set-top box technology venture. BT has also mulled an investment in Britbox, ITV’s subscription streaming service with the BBC.

Shares in BT were 0.58% higher in London by mid-morning, while ITV shares gained 0.29%.

ITV shares were in the green on Friday. Chart: Yahoo Finance
ITV shares were in the green on Friday. Chart: Yahoo Finance

It comes after BT confirmed on Thursday that its sports business was up for sale after media speculation.

The telecoms operator has appointed investment bank Lazard to explore a partial sale. International sports streaming venture Dazn, which is funded by Ukraine-born billionaire Sir Leonard Blavatnik, is also understood to be in talks. Dazn owns US sports channel ESPN.

Amazon already streams sport including live Premier League matches on its Prime Video service.

“Further to media reports, BT can confirm that early discussions are being held with a number of select strategic partners to explore ways to generate investment, strengthen our sports business and help take it to the next stage in its growth,” it said in a statement.

“The discussions are confidential and may or may not lead to an outcome.”

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Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell said on the confirmation of the news: “Bidding for sports rights is an expensive and unpredictable business – securing them can be a big pull for subscribers and advertisers but it involves a big outlay and there is always a risk a rival could gazump you at the last moment – a trick BT itself has pulled in the past."

He added: “Plus at the moment the world of sports and sports rights is in a flux thanks to the pandemic – it’s a very different world from the one in which BT launched as a challenger to Sky nearly a decade ago.

“By selling a bit of the business, and reducing the amount it spends on sport, BT could generate funds to help meet the massive bill it faces for investing in broadband infrastructure.

Yahoo Finance reached out to ITV for comment.

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