A battle for BT Sport between American media giant Discovery and one of the richest men the world, Soviet Ukraine born Len Blavatnik, now British, a Knight of the Realm and owner of the live streaming business DAZN and other media, looks like its over.
And the odds-on winner, already owner of Eurosport and its rights to televise both the World and British Superbike Championships, is Discovery.
Its offer of a 50/50 joint venture putting BT Sport and Eurosport, and other rights, together has led to exclusive negotiations between the two and the prospect of a very powerful business well able to take on Sky.
Contracts have yet to be signed but BT has said it is aiming to conclude in April. No price has been disclosed but it was reported that DAZN had offered £600 million to buy BT Sport outright. According to the Sunday Times rich list Blavatnik is worth £23 billion and is hoovering up sports rights including cricket, rugby and boxing for distribution.
The reasons for the sale are very simple: BT has lost a fortune by paying too much money for rights - football in particular – and not getting a big enough audience to generate the subscription or advertising revenue.
Taking on Sky was very ambitious response to the threat which Sky posed in its attack on BT’s domination of broadband. It hasn’t worked as the competition pushed up the value of rights which had promoters such as the Premier League and Dorna rubbing their hands. Discovery, which already has rights to the Olympic Games, wants to gain dominant positions globally. This fits its agenda but Blavatnik may not yet be out of the game.
Will this affect the coverage of MotoGP? Not for the time being as Dorna’s contract, said to be worth around £35/40m for three years - as opposed to £385m for the Premier League - still has a couple of years to run. But it may be causing presenters such as Suzi Perry, Neil Hodgson, Michael Laverty and Gavin Emmett to look at their contracts. If Discovery were to be the buyer - which as they are in pole position looks highly likely - they would dominate both World Championships and BSB but largely still on terrestrial tv. Sponsors like live streaming because of its mobility, appeal to a younger audience and it’s reach free of regulation to most of the countries in the world.
Keith Huewen, one-time lead MotoGP presenter with BT, said:”The one thing that worries me is that this deal will create something of a monopoly- all the eggs in one basket. But there are other big players like Netflix or Amazon, who seem to like sport and are simply blowing traditional tv out of the water. In the last couple of years both BT and Eurosport have been cutting costs, It will be interesting to see what happens now.