Champions League on BT Sport, Amazon and BBC

Pay-TV broadcaster BT Sport and the Amazon Prime video streaming service have snapped up joint live rights in the UK to top-tier European club soccer’s UEFA Champions League (UCL) for the three seasons from 2024-25 onwards.

Meanwhile, for the first time ever, highlights will be shown by the BBC, the UK’s public-service broadcaster, after the window for first-round media rights bids in the UK closed on June 29.

BT Sport, which has been the sole Champions League broadcaster in the UK since the beginning of the 2015-16 season, will now have to share live rights to the prestigious competition for the first time in eight years (although it will still cover the vast majority), with Amazon muscling in and securing a package of first-pick Tuesday night games.

BT Sport, which has also confirmed the retention of the majority of rights across UEFA’s other pan-European club competitions, has today said it will pay £305 million annually for the rights, adding up to £915 million over the three years.

The total value of the new rights deal, which the broadcasters have negotiated with UEFA’s partner agency for the UCL, Team Marketing, has been reported as between £1.4 billion ($1.69 billion) and £1.5 billion over the three seasons from 2024-25 through 2026-27.

Team and UEFA issued the invitation to tender (ITT) documents in the UK for rights to the UCL, as well as to the second-tier Europa Conference League and third-tier Europa Conference League, on May 31.

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BT Sport currently pays £1.2 billion ($1.45 billion) – on its own – for exclusive rights to all three aforementioned competitions, with its existing deal running from 2021-22 to 2023-24.

It ousted the UK’s previous UCL broadcasters, commercial network ITV and pay-TV rival Sky Sports, in 2013.

The broadcaster’s parent company, telecommunications giant BT, struck a £633 million deal with the US media firm Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) in mid-May, to create a joint pay-TV sport business combining BT Sport and WBD’s Eurosport channel.

It is likely that hanging onto UCL rights was one of the foremost priorities for this new venture, which is expected to secure final approval and clearance from the relevant authorities by the end of 2022.

Since the number of annual games in the competition will increase from 2024-25 (with England likely to secure an extra qualification slot, for a total of five), it will actually end up showing more fixtures each year even though its exclusivity is being ended. In total, it has said it will show 533 of the 550 UCL games available across the three seasons.

Marc Allera, chief executive at the BT consumer division, said: “BT Sport continues to be the home of the UEFA club competitions until 2027 and we are extremely proud to have the privilege of twelve years of broadcasting one of the most exciting competitions in the world.  It is fantastic news for our viewers that from 2024 we will be able to show more games than ever before live and exclusive on BT Sport.”

This increase in fixtures – 189 matches per season from 2024-25, up from 125 currently – explains why a substantial rise in the value of the total rights has being reported, although since BT Sport’s own input is not increasing, the extra revenue is expected to come from Amazon and the BBC.

For Amazon, meanwhile, the deal represents another significant step in terms of its progress in the world of UK sports rights, with coverage of top-tier tennis and rugby, as well as of 20 live games each year from English domestic soccer’s top-tier Premier League (through a deal in 2018), already available on the Prime Video Sport streaming service.

Elsewhere, the retail giant-turned-sports-broadcaster already holds exclusive UCL rights in Germany and Italy, with those deals having begun at the start of 2021-22.

It also covers domestic Ligue 1 top-flight soccer in France.

The Times newspaper has reported that Amazon will cover 17 UCL matches in total (a similar number to its annual level of Premier League coverage) each season, equating to one per game week, with BT Sport to air the rest.

For the Premier League, BT Sport and Amazon both hold minority packages, with pay-TV giant Sky Sports covering the majority of live fixtures.

Alex Green, managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe, has now said: “The addition of UEFA Champions League football is a truly momentous moment for Prime Video in the UK … Since 2018, we’ve seen millions of Prime members in the UK enjoy live sport on Prime Video, and it’s that passion and energy that has led us to this exciting next step.”

UEFA’s marketing director, Guy-Laurent Epstein, added: “Prime Video is a valued UEFA Champions League media partner in Italy and Germany and we are excited to be extending this relationship to the UK, another major UEFA club competition market.

“Amazon has ambitious plans across the global sporting industry and we look forward to the innovative ways in which it will broadcast European club football.”

The BBC highlights, meanwhile, will reportedly air each Wednesday night during the UCL season, in a similar format to the popular Match of the Day program through which the network airs Premier League highlights.

The Times newspaper has reported that the network committed significant resources towards bidding for the highlights.

It would mark the first time that highlights have been free-to-air (FTA) in nearly a decade, with ITV having last provided free highlights in 2014-15.

Conrad Wiacek, Head of Sport Analysis at GlobalData, offers his view on the overall deal: “With Amazon adding Champions League rights to its existing portfolio of Premier League, tennis and rugby sports rights in the UK, the indication is that sports rights will be essential in order for streaming services to grow their subscription services …

“With more Champions League games to show with the competition’s group stage expanding to 36 teams from 24, the value of UEFA rights in the UK market is now estimated to be worth in excess of $1.5 billion, signifying an increase in revenue for European soccer’s governing body and addressing one of the key reasons behind the failed Super League venture, namely more money for top clubs.

“Amazon will certainly use the lure of more sport to attract viewers to its platform and in turn convert those viewers into subscribers for the Amazon Prime shopping service.

“In addition to Amazon, the BBC will be showing highlights, allowing for greater audience reach which will please UEFA sponsorship partners in a key market.”

Yesterday, (June 30), it was announced that Canal Plus, the French pay-TV operator, has secured UCL rights, as well as rights to the other UEFA club competitions, in that country for the 2024-25 to 2026-27 cycle.

Commercial broadcaster M6 will, meanwhile, provide free-to-air coverage of the UCL final across all three seasons.

The Canal Plus agreement is worth around €480 million ($502 million) per year.

Team and UEFA issued the French rights tender at the same time as the UK process was launched.