Posted: Monday November 11, 2013 7:06 AM

BSkyB shares battered by soccer rights loss

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LONDON (AP) - Shares in British Sky Broadcasting PLC took a battering Monday after rival BT PLC snatched the U.K. television rights to European Champions League soccer, Europe's top club competition.

The loss of the rights, which it had shared with terrestrial broadcaster ITV PLC, represents a big blow for the satellite broadcaster as it has built its business over the past two decades largely on the back of its acquisition of sports rights. Many argue that soccer rights are the main reason why the broadcaster has around 10 million subscribers.

Investors are worried BSkyB, whose biggest shareholder is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., will face additional financial pressures to maintain its array of sports rights. BSkyB shares were down 10 percent Monday at 840 pence, meaning around 1.48 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) has been wiped off the value of the company.

''With analysts and commentators describing this as a game changer, finding reasons to own BSkyB seem harder to come by today than before,'' said David White, a trader at Spreadex.

This isn't the first time that BT, the former nationalized British telecommunications company that only launched its sports television channels in August, has grabbed soccer rights. Earlier this year, it bought a package of English Premier League rights that it hopes will help it grow its broadband business - Sky, though, retains the lion's share of those rights. It has along with public broadcaster BBC bought the rights to the FA Cup, the world's oldest domestic soccer competition.

BT's capture of European soccer's Champions League, though, is a far more notable achievement and represents the most high-profile defeat for Sky since its own audacious capture of English Premier League rights in 1992. The competition, won last season by Germany's Bayern Munich, features Europe's leading teams and runs alongside domestic competitions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

''The tastiest battle going on this season is not on the football pitches or even the dugouts, but between BT and Sky as they continue to slug it out over the UK's sports fans,'' said Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG.

BT is paying 1.076 billion euros ($1.44 billion) - more or less double the current deal - for the three-year exclusive rights to the Champions League and the junior club tournament, the Europa League.

The loss of the rights is also a blow to ITV. Champions League soccer has been a midweek staple for ITV for the best part of two decades. Unlike BSkyB, which has largely used sports rights to grow its subscriber base, ITV has benefited from the premium advertising income that the Champions League provided. Slots during coverage were populated by high-profile brands.

ITV shares faltered too Monday, trading 1.4 percent lower at 188 pence.

Though there are concerns in the markets about the amount BT is splashing out, investors appear to be giving the company the benefit of the doubt - BT shares were up 0.5 percent at 474 pence.
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