Analysts Debate Possible ITV, BT Partnership for English Soccer Games

Will Soccer Royalty Score on Wall St.?

Soccer is a huge and growing business. Deloitte calculates England's Premier League, in which Man U plays, will be worth $3.3 billion this year, compared with "just" $850 million in 1996.

One says showing matches wouldn't make economic sense for the British broadcaster, but some see room for a production deal and a longer-term challenge to pay TV giant BSkyB.


LONDON - Analysts on Wednesday told THR that there may be some benefits for British commercial broadcaster ITV to partner with telecom giant BT on the latter's TV coverage of some English Premier League soccer games starting next season.

The Telegraph reported that BT is in talks with ITV, IMG Worldwide, All3Media unit North One Television and others to help it produce its live soccer coverage, including a dedicated soccer network that it announced when it won rights to some games earlier this year. The three-year contract is believed to be worth around 100 million ($158 million).

BT's surprise challenge to long-time EPL rights holder and pay TV giant BSkyB came as a shock for some observers.

The Telegraph in a similar surprise said that ITV could show live EPL matches for the first time under a possible BT partnership.

BT declined to comment, but an ITV spokesman denied that the broadcaster was talking to the firm about airing games itself.

Claudio Aspensi, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said it wouldn't make financial sense for ITV to air games. "The EPL rights are very difficult to exploit on anything other than pay TV models," he explained.
"Every ad agency executive I spoke to decided it was impossible to make money on the EPL through ads only."

Also, "the core audience for the EPL knows where to find it, and the people who are "marginal" viewers are unlikely to be swayed to subscribe if you make even some games free," he added.

A deal could allow BT to recoup some of its investment in the EPL rights for 38 games per season and could help ITV secure the production deal, some argued though.

UBS analyst Polo Tang said any form of collaboration could be bad news for BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. owns a 39 percent stake. "Closer co-operation between ITV and BT could lead to concerns about longer-term competition with BSkyB for the EPL rights," he said. "However, the impact on BSkyB in the near-term may be limited."

Peel Hunt analyst Patrick Yau also told THR that any sort of agreement "could help both companies better compete against Sky in the longer term."

Twitter: @georgszalai