BT Sport pulls in the fans amid £1bn Sky Sports war

Michael Bow
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BT SPORT kicked off its bid to take on rival Sky Sports with a peak television audience of 764,000 for its opening day match on Saturday, it emerged yesterday.

The number tuning in for the lunchtime fixture between Liverpool and Stoke City is on a par with opening day games shown on broadcasters ESPN and Setanta in 2011 and 2012. However, while Setanta spent £392m on rights in 2009, BT has spent £1bn to take on Sky and a further £40m in advertising.

Some have argued that BT Sport’s shareholders will ultimately regret the huge sums it has paid out to take on a competitor as firmly entrenched in the premium sports rights market as Sky.

Simon Green, head of BT Sport, said: “Our audience compares very well with Sky's first game last season despite them having had years to establish an audience as opposed to weeks and a bigger subscriber base.”

Sky countered BT’s Premier League coverage on Saturday by showing its sports channel all day for free on Freeview.

Sky’s Championship fixture Leeds United against Sheffield Wednesday – which aired at the same time as BT’s match – beat its Premier League rival by attracting just under a million viewers at its peak. Just over three million people also tuned in to watch the channel’s Saturday night fixture between Swansea and Manchester United.

Sky said yesterday it was “business as usual”.