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Setanta, ESPN couldn't make UK footie TV work. How will BT Sport?

By giving it all away? Um, let's take a look

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Having acquired the TV rights to top-flight sports for £736m, BT is to give much of it away to its broadband punters at no extra cost - or indeed to anyone who wants to pony up just a few quid a week.

Last year, the telco shelled out millions for the rights to show 38 Premier league football matches live over a three-year period. Meanwhile, BSkyB paid £2.28bn for 116 games. Between them, that's 70 per cent more dosh than the last time the telly rights came up, a windfall for the top-drawer clubs.

BT also acquired Premiership Rugby rights in 2012 and acquired ESPN's UK and Irish channels in February this year, giving it the rights to show footie from Germany, France, Italy and Brazil, among other sports - plus 176 matches from the Europa League, which is less of a football competition and more of an endurance test for reserve team squad players at mid-ranking European clubs. Recent winners include Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg.

The corporation said it will undercut arch-rival Sky in pubs, hotels and commercial premises. But the decision to show the material to paid-up subscribers with no additional fees is the oddest part of a complicated stack of tariffs and options, which were announced yesterday.

BT Sport viewers will need fibre broadband and a YouView box to see the games in high definition. This HD option will cost an extra £3 a month, but BT will waive this fee for a year if one signs up before the start of August. For standard definition coverage, you'll have to make do with BT's broadband and Vision+ box, so long as you pay a tenner for an access card.

But what if you're an early adopter and bought your own YouView box? Tough. BT says only its YouView boxes are eligible for the "free" BT Sport channel - you'll need to pay a tenner a month if you use YouView gear branded by someone else. BT YouView owners will also need to do a software upgrade. Daunted? You're forgiven.

For non-BT internet subscribers, you can get BT Sport by paying £15 a month for HD transmissions via a suitable Sky box, or £12 for standard definition. There will also be an app for PCs, smartphones and fondleslabs.

You won't be allowed to watch the matches in multiple rooms in your home, and if you have BT and Sky you can't work around this restriction.

And the economics? BT is wading into an arena where Setanta, ITV Digital and ESPN have tried and failed. BT Sport says it's "all about broadband", which even if we take at face value, means it's spending big - on rights and marketing - to retain existing broadband customers let alone gain new ones. Its new sports channel lacks depth to lure Sky triple-play punters (those with combined broadband, TV and landline packages) away from Sky's broader service. And BT's implementation, with a confusing tangle of options, leaves much to be desired.

Are there enough semi-interested football fans - remember the real enthusiasts already have Sky - prepared to mull switching to BT? Perhaps, if BT Sport is complemented by other offerings such as movies and drama. Partial sport coverage may not be enough to move the needle either way.

What do you think? ®

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