BT in talks to sell stake in sports business
The telecom giant has invested millions in sports broadcasting
BT is seeking to sell a stake in its pay-TV sport business, adding some uncertainty to the next negotiating round for football broadcast rights.
The telecoms giant confirmed it had held talks with a number of companies including Amazon, Disney and the streaming service Dazn. It is also understood that ITV has been involved in the process.
DAZN’s new chairman Kevin Mayer – formerly a high-flying Disney executive – recently indicated an interest in Premier League rights, amongst others, in an interview with CNBC.
BT has invested heavily in sports rights to build BT Sport following a long-held ambition to break into broadcasting.
Securing rights to the English Premier League and European Champions League was the culmination of those plans and it emerged as the first serious rival to Sky. By doing so it pushed out ESPN, ironically owned by Disney.
It is now assessing all options including a full sale, joint venture partnership with a media company, or selling a stake.
In a brief statement to the market on Thursday morning it said: “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.”
The company, has appointed the investment bank Lazard to explore options and said the discussions “may or may not lead to an outcome.”
BT’s shares rose almost 3% as investors welcomed the potential cash injection and sharing of costly sports rights bills.
It launched the pay-TV service in 2012 to partly to stem the loss of millions of broadband customers to competitors, mainly Sky.
However, despite investing millions in BT Sport, the service has not attracted the subscriber numbers it had expected.
Jefferies analyst Jerry Dellis has said that BT Sport costs the telco around £800 million a year – largely due to football rights – but that it has struggled to define how the broadcasting arm creates value for the business.
At the last Premier League rights auction in 2018, total takings came in about £600m lower than the previous record £5.1bn, the first decrease since the 2004-05 three-year cycle of rights.
Both BT and Sky were helped when a truce was called that allowed customers to watch all Premier League games without being forced to buy separate TV packages.
BT is said to be focused on its core telecoms operation and is investing £12.5bn in upgrading much of the UK’s internet network to next-generation full-fibre broadband.