Telecoms giant BT, which is currently doing everything it can to fund Openreach’s planned £12bn rollout of “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband services to 20 million UK premises by the mid to late 2020s, has reportedly appointed investment bank Lazard and held tentative early talks with a view to selling their BTSport broadcasting biz.
The addition of BT’s sport business to their portfolio has always been somewhat of a contentious one, not least due to the high cost of broadcast rights and the challenge of trying to unseat established rivals like Sky. At the same time many consumers have tended to express the view that the operator might have done better to invest in their broadband infrastructure instead, which is finally happening
Furthermore, the operator’s mobile division EE also has to consider the heavy costs involved with deploying the latest ultrafast 5G mobile (mobile broadband) technology across the United Kingdom, as well as the c.£500m hit they’re taking from having to remove and replace Huawei’s kit within their network. We should add that the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t exactly done wonders for the live TV sport business either.
On top of that consumers today often feel as if they now have to pay significantly more, usually to several providers, in order to secure the full range of coverage. So on the one hand BT’s move into sport might have made the market more competitive at a certain level, but on the other hand that fragmentation hasn’t necessarily aided the price of entry for customers who demand the most coverage.
According to the FT (paywall) and various other reports, BT has already held some very early talks with companies including Dazn, Amazon and Walt Disney, as well as various private equity firms. Such a deal could come in various different forms, such as the complete disposal of BT Sport, a Joint Venture (JV) / partnership or the sale of a stake in order to boost investment.
BT has already sunk billions into the venture, so it stands to reason that they’d probably want to retain some control or influence over the broadcasting side going forwards. Meanwhile, the Football Premier League is said to be close to renewing its £4.7bn domestic broadcast contracts with Sky (Sky Broadband), BT and Amazon – due to the pandemic, they seem to be skipping the usual auction process this time.
However, this isn’t the only avenue that BT are examining to help fund their infrastructure plans. The operator has also been busy cutting thousands of jobs (except for engineers), which has left them exposed to the potential of a national strike (here and here). In addition, BT’s CEO, Philip Jansen, remains “open minded” about the possibility of selling a “minority” in Openreach (here)
BT has just issued a statement.
A BT Spokesperson said:
“Further to media reports, BT can confirm that early discussions are being held with a number of select strategic partners, to explore ways to generate investment, strengthen our sports business, and help take it to the next stage in its growth. The discussions are confidential and may or may not lead to an outcome.”