Design Organisation


Fool’s Gold

Cardinal Q 12 Nov 13

100 days after launching its sports channels, I see that BT has won the bid to secure the ‘live’ Champions League Football video rights for the UK.

We like a good kick about in the churchyard, and you might be surprised to hear that many of my brothers play the game to a high standard. I can’t say that they are touched, like Maradona, by the hand of God. However, they do follow the game closely and know their Messis from their Michaelangelos.

But back to BT. They have paid $1.44bn to secure the rights to show all 350 Champions League and Europa League games for three seasons. This is roughly double the size of the current deal, being delivered by Sky and ITV … and, contrary to popular belief, significantly more than we get in the collection plates at the Basilica.

According to some of my curates, BT offered ‘several hundred million’ more than the next bidder. This seems quite extraordinary to me. It mimics, 25 years on, the approach that Rupert Murdoch, Knight Commander of St Gregory, took when he built Sky’s business from nowt to 10 million homes. This papal knight constantly outbid his rivals.

But I fear BT’s move is a bad deal for most. The audience will almost certainly end up having to pay a lot more of their hard-earned cash to access big games. I will get more BT junk mail delivered to the Sacristy each month. And who are the victors? Well, the clubs. And, of course, the players. They are likely to become even richer than they are already and, some of the less saintly ones, even more louche.

But the money madness has only just begun. BT’s profligacy means there will be an inflationary midfield tussle every time other football rights come up for renewal. And you, dear parishioner, will be the loser.

Those of us in my vocation tend to applaud people who take leaps of faith. Gavin Patterson, BT’s dashing new CEO has taken a huge bet that football will is the 21st century’s oil, and BT’s various digital channels, the petrol forecourts.

But the oil analogy doesn’t really work. BT’s move is more like a first-time buyer paying a million more than the asking price for a terraced house in Cockfosters. Bidding ‘several hundred million’ more than the next highest bidder meant there was no need for the negotiation skills of Kofi Annan. It was simply ‘win at all costs’.

The key question is; can BT pull it off? They have secured the content they craved, but will they attract the audience and advertisers?

They have an enthusiastic CEO. They have a plan. And seemingly lots of money to spend. They have wind in their sails, and their employees will feel that they have taken a major scalp. There will be excitement across the organisation that they have taken on the biggest player (the original game-changer) and beaten them at their own game. For those who work at BT, this is a sweet moment.

However, I have been a customer of BT (and British Telecom before it) for 42 years. But I stopped today. BT has failed to do the basic things well. My experience of its products has been unfulfilling; a phone service often on the blink, and broadband that petered out because I live “too far away from the local exchange.” The blurb refers you to; but as my broadband conks out every 10 minutes, it would take a miracle to sort out the issue online.

So I called India. The BT call centre staff try to be helpful. And they are are always friendly. “What’s your favourite football team?” asked one operative, irrepressibly on topic. However, to a man, they have never been able to help with the broadband issues we have in the Presbytery. So I bid them adieu. “And the weather, since you ask, is patchy. Just like the curate’s broadband …. ”

Bye bye Busby. Shalom Beattie. I’m off to watch Accrington Stanley.

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