Sometime early next year – and no one knows precisely when such is the secrecy surrounding the process – the Premier League will launch an auction to decide who will broadcast live matches for three seasons from 2016-17.
And analysts are divided over whether Sky, which has held most of the broadcast rights since the league’s first season in 1992-93, will be knocked off its perch by BT.
In that first season, Sky – then BSkyB – paid £38m to broadcast 66 live matches. Now, analysts believe, the total annual rights bill could top £1.5bn because Sky faces its first true test of pay TV dominance in Britain in the shape of BT.
Currently, Sky pays an annual £760m for five packages to broadcast 116 games a season, while BT pays £246m for 38 games. The average price per game is £6.5m.
BT made its intentions clear by agreeing to pay £300m annually from next season to broadcast the Champions League, replacing Sky and ITV .
Analysts at Liberum believe that this is one match that Sky cannot afford to lose. “Our proprietary research of Sky Sports customers suggests Sky is at risk of significant churn if BT wins the majority of the Premier League rights or launches a price war off a 50/50 split. Quite simply, Sky has to win this one,” analysts said, adding that they expect “trench warfare… with no clear victor”.
Citi, however, was more sanguine.
Its analysts said: “Not only do we think Sky could afford to take a lower allocation of rights… but the lay up for the auction – both in terms of the structure of the process and the potential strategic moves happening alongside – to us suggest there may be less inflation than investors think.”