BT and Sky will go head-to-head in a near billion pound battle over the UK television rights for European Champions League football.
A tender process kicks off with bids needing to be in tomorrow to secure the rights that also include the Europa League and will run for three years starting from the 2018/19 season.
BT Sport is the incumbent provider after they shocked Sky in 2013, trumping their offer in a deal worth £897m.
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Several confidential "packets" of rights are on offer to bidders. These range from partial or sharing of coverage, to an outright exclusive deal similar that previously secured by BT.
Both parties were playing their cards close to their chests with reports that BT is in the box seat to beat Sky again.
"It's BT's to lose," one person familiar with the situation told City A.M., while other sources said Sky was simply trying to lull BT into a false sense of security.
In 2013, BT's victory was revealed only days after European football's governing body UEFA kicked off the process. It is understood that the telecoms firm's offer was so compelling that UEFA went straight to exclusivity in order to nail down the finer details of the deal.
If the offers from the two FTSE 100 firms closer in monetary terms, further rounds of bids and negotiations will occur, meaning a final decision would be unlikely this side of the weekend.
The finer details of the rivals' pitches are closely guarded secrets. And while it may take a more than £1bn offer to secure exclusive rights BT has previously said it wasn't prepared to pay over the odds.
"We take a view that is very rational," BT boss Gavin Patterson told City A.M. in January. He added:
We know exactly what the rights of any sport and the competition bring to our audience and customer base. As such we stay within those boundaries.
There's clearly been a surge in rights inflation over the last three or four years but it will settle down, I believe, at some point.
Both Sky and BT are understood to be nervous about being blindsided by another party – similar to what happened to Sky in 2013. US parcel and media giant Amazon could be lining up a deal, several sources said.
Amazon refused to comment on whether it would participate in the auction.
Discovery, which settled a public spat with Sky over the future of their channels on the satellite firm's UK and German platform in January, will not be putting a bid into the auction, according to sources close to the firm.