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BT retains Champions League rights in £1.2bn deal as it’s put at centre of election debate

BT Sport has beaten ITV and Sky to retain exclusive Uefa Champions League and Europa League rights in a deal estimated to be worth £1.2bn.

The sum paid matches the same figure it shelled out for the 2018-21 rights.

The deal will see the pay-TV broadcaster continue to air all 420 games live and highlights and show in-match clips on social media.

In previous years, BT Sport has aired the Champions League and Europa League finals free, resulting in a boost to its audiences. It is estimated that 11.3 million people on digital and TV tuned in for last year’s Champions League final.

However, news of the win was overshadowed after Labour announced plans to nationalise Openreach, BT's broadband infrastructure arm, if elected.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to make broadband a "public service" that would be "free to everybody". The policy would see the creation of a new state body, British Broadband, which would offer free full-fibre broadband to every UK resident by 2030.

Labour said it would cost an estimated £15bn to roll out full-fibre broadband to every household, not including the £5bn that the government has already dedicated to broadband expansion.

However, BT boss Philip Jansen has criticised the plan, saying it would cost up to £100bn.

“These are very, very ambitious ideas and the Conservative Party have their own ambitious idea for full fibre for everyone by 2025 and how we do it is not straightforward,” Jansen told the BBC.

“It needs funding, it is very big numbers, so we are talking £30bn to £40bn and if you are giving it away over an eight-year time frame it is another £30bn or £40bn. You are not short of £100bn.”

Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson described Corbyn’s plan as “crackpot”.

“What we won’t be doing is some crackpot scheme that would involve many, many tens of billions of taxpayers’ money nationalising a British business,” he said.

BT’s share price fell 2.4% on the news.

Labour has not commented on the potential impact its vision would have on BT's biggest rivals, Virgin and TalkTalk, which could be faced with having to compete with a free broadband service.  

TalkTalk had a plan to sell its own infrastructure arm but said it was now "pausing" to consider.

"Our discussions are very advanced, and yes, the news overnight of course is making everybody in the sector pause and consider," it said. 

"We were really close, really close, but I think something of this sort that is in the news, obviously everybody is pausing, considering, digesting and working out what it means." 

Featured by The Drum

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