BT have successfully reinvented themselves over the last few years, moving from a tired, fusty media empire to something a little more vital – a direct competitor to Sky, in a very serious way.
That’s been on the back of their nabbing of Premier League and Champions League football rights, which have drawn in customers to their TV, broadband and mobile packages, on the promise of huge matches from around the globe.
However, that could all change now, as a sudden power shift at BT has triggered the exit of the mastermind behind the multibillion pound football spending plan. That news has cast doubt over the future of football rights at BT, with the new Premier League rights auction looming.
The Sunday Telegraph learned that in the days prior to the announcement of BT’s consumer chief John Petter exit from the company, he was in discussions about taking on the responsibility of the company’s overall strategy and restructuring. Indeed, the company were extremely close to announcing Petter’s promotion when he abruptly decided to leave the company.
Mr Petter has accepted a deal worth more than a year’s wage as part of his redundancy package, but the reveal was a blow to the BT boss, Gavin Patterson, who is under pressure after a series of costly mistakes have led to BT’s shares plunging in January.
The two men have worked closely together for years at a number of companies, including Proctor & Gamble and Telewest. However, with Mr Petter gone, Patterson’s footing looks significantly less stable.
Taking over strategy at BT is Simon Lowth, the company’s chief financial officer. Under the previous structure, he urged caution over increasing their Champions League spending to £400m a year (a third higher than before), and could put the kibosh on any expansion plans for BT Sport. With a keen understanding of the financial pressures that BT are facing from a potential increase in pension deficit payments and the need to invest in their customer service experience for people using the contact details for BT.
It’s now thought that he could now use his extended remit to pull back on the forthcoming Premier League rights auction, due in early 2018. The cost of the Premier League has been rising dramatically with each passing auction, and it’s thought that BT could bid only on the two cheapest packages in an effort to save money.
By law, Sky aren’t allowed to win rights to every Premier League match, so BT could attempt to sneak in with a low bid and retain some games. However, with interest from the likes of Amazon and other new players, it could prove difficult.
Sky, meanwhile, are expected to try to avoid an increase in package price, after they suffered an 83% increase in cost during the last auction, which led to increased prices for Sky services.