The Rise and Rise of BT Sport – Rebecca Hopkins

By iSportconnect | June 6, 2014

As news comes that BT Sport has further strengthened its hold on rugby by securing a sponsorship deal with all four Welsh regions and the naming right for Murrayfield, sports public relations agencies are wondering where this land grab of rights will end.

The latest deals to be announced see a three-year, multi-million pound agreement which will see Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons feature BT Sport branding on their kits. The remaining team, Cardiff, has sold the naming rights to its heritage imbued stadium for the first time, renaming it the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park. This creates some awkwardness for TV rivals Sky, which owns the broadcast rights to all of next season’s PRO12 games.  It marks the expansion of BT Sport’s existing league involvement as the brand already sponsors both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh. BT Sport’s rugby output portfolio now includes exclusive rights to AVIVA Premiership matches and Sky-shared coverage of next season’s inaugural European Champions Cup. Rugby fans wanting to watch key games now have no choice other than to subscribe to its services. Football fans are riding in the same boat as BT also has secured exclusive rights to next year’s Champions League.

Another aspect of the rugby deal is with Scottish rugby HQ, Murrayfield stadium. The deal, with a rumoured worth of £20 million, would wipe out the SRU’s £11 million debt in addition to creating funds to invest back into the sport which has been under performing in the country for some time.

MurrayfieldView

So where next for BT Sport? Maybe the answer to that question means looking at the brand’s history and rationale behind this spending spree of a strategy. BT Sport has been around for several years, quietly broadcasting a very narrow portfolio of low-key rights. It was only last year that the new-look and proposition was brought to market with far more interesting content, primarily Premier League matches, although acquisition of UEFA and Europa rights soon followed. It transpired quickly after relaunch that the brand itself is a marketing tool for BT’s broadband proposition. The UK sports viewing market is not only a lucrative one, it is easily identifiable and self-nominating, with the added bonus that fans are willing to invest in subscriptions in order to access the matches they want. By targeting this market with what they hold dearest, BT has been able to attract half a million new customers to its sport channel, thereby adding significantly to its broadband customer base. Not only has this expanded the brand’s footprint, it has help BT put the company into quarterly revenue growth for the first time in more than four years.

Conversely, whilst BT’s main rival, Sky, has responded with an equally heavyweight marketing and sport PR campaign – estimated to have increased the company’s costs by 13% – it simply hasn’t been able to outbid BT on serious sports rights.

Whilst BT Sport is undoubtedly winning the sports broadcast war as things stand, it won’t be good news for the consumer if this success continues and they see off all rivals. Competition is good for the consumer, it gives choice and helps keep costs fair. BT Sport’s expenditure to date on marketing and presenting talent, as well as broadcast rights, may be significant but, at some point, their customers are going to be footing the bill.

Watch Rebecca Hopkins analyse the week’s big marketing stories in the Sports Marketing Show on iSportconnect TV


Rebecca Hopkins is Managing Director of ENS Ltd, a London-based sports agency tasked with promoting and protecting brands in sport. They specialize in sports PR, crisis management and online public relations.

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