Written by Media, Sport, TV

Sky And The Champions’ League

Media Guardian are reporting that Sky has won the majority of the Champions’ League games for the three years beginning in 2009. It’s thought that they offered more than £240m representing nearly a 50% increase over what they had previously paid.
For that sum, they get all the games bar one – a single Wednesday night game.
It’s not surprising that Sky have launched a blockbuster bid, as with Setanta and ITV getting the FA Cup and England rights, and Setanta slowly becoming a force in televised sport in the UK (albeit, a force that’s probably still losing money), Sky just had to win this package.
But where does that leave coverage of the Champions’ League for the average viewer? What’s really worrying is the single match package which is still up for grabs could also be won by Sky.
That’d be terrible for the competition, and terrible for the British viewing public. The Champions’ League Final is not a Listed Event. It’s actually conceivable that none of the tournament, including the European Cup Final itself, will not appear on terrestrial television.
Uefa president Michel Platini is said to be keen to keep at least one fixture on terrestrial TV, but will the lure of Sky’s lucre be too much?
It’s ironic that in the run up to this round of bidding that concerns were voiced by rivals of a potential BBC bid about how the Champions’ League sponsors would be catered for on the BBC; they get the sponsorship bumpers on Sky and ITV. Well now the big risk to sponsors must surely be the lack of a big audience seeing their names and association at all. Sony, Heineken, Mastercard et al have paid tens of millions for their sponsorship packages. The value to them is much reduced if the majority of the UK population don’t see their brands.
It’d be hard to argue that the competition will suffer in the short term if it disappeared completely from terrestrial television – undoubtedly the BBC or ITV would pick up a highlights package. But you only have to look at cricket to see how a sport can shift from gaining a ticker-tape parade in London when the Ashes were won, to a vague “are England playing?” when the game moved completely off terrestrial.
So who will win that final match? Well, I can’t see them giving it to Sky. In some ways, it’s more valuable to Sky not to have that game – it acts as something to remind you that they have all the other games. And that’s something that’s especially important in the knockout phases when terrestrial viewers will only see one half of a two-legged fixture.
ITV will want to retain the rights, but not at any cost. If the lone match that’s available is to only be on a Wednesday, then arguably shifting Coronation Street is not something that ITV will really want to do. They used to, but it didn’t please their legions of fans. On the other hand, the competition undoubtedly draws viewers to the channel who wouldn’t otherwise come – young men in particular.
The BBC would love to win the matches. They must be furious that they’ve lost FA Cup and England rights – especially since they’ve done so much to reinvigorate the FA Cup in recent seasons. And they’re now without any live top-flight football (the Championship isn’t enough). Eastenders doesn’t get in the way on Wednesday nights!
Five are the dark horse, but will RTL bid?
It’s worth remembering that OnDigital once had the Champions’ League rights and it wasn’t enough to keep that platform running, so I’ll assume that there won’t be any mad fools at BT Vision or similar gunning for the games.
What is clear is that you can expect an awful lot more Man Utd on your TV. Given the choice of a Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal fixture, TV bosses will pick Man Utd every time. Supporters of the other teams might as well start saving for Sky now.