U.K. incumbent’s costly content push continues with exclusive broadcast deal until 2021.

BT on Monday paid £1.2 billion (€1.39 billion) to extend its exclusive rights to broadcast UEFA Champions League and Europa League football in the U.K. for three more years.

It represents the incumbent’s most costly content deal to date.

"The UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League are two of the best competitions in the world and we would like to thank UEFA for choosing us as their exclusive broadcast partner in the U.K.," said John Petter, CEO of BT Consumer.

From 2018/2019, the UEFA Champions League will have ‘double header’ nights during the group stage, where two live games will be shown per night, with the first kicking off at 6pm, and the second kicking off at 8pm.

BT customers will be able to watch select games in 4K; the telco is also rolling out the latest Dolby Atmos sound, which promises to be even more immersive than surround sound.

BT has also pledged to stream the finals of both tournaments for free over social media, and will also make clips, weekly highlights, and UEFA’s magazine show available on social media too.

"BT Sport has proved to be an innovative broadcast partner, pushing the boundaries and covering the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in new ways," said Guy Laurent Epstein, UEFA marketing director.

"BT have delivered strong audiences in the U.K. and we are excited about their future plans for the use of social media which will engage a growing fanbase that consumes sport in different ways," he said.

BT has already paid considerable sums to secure high-profile football rights, and this latest deal – its most expensive yet – illustrates the growing importance of premium content to the telco’s strategy.

BT first secured three-year rights to show the Champions League and Europea League in 2013, paying £897 million to fend off BSkyB and public broadcaster ITV. A year earlier, BT surprised the industry by forking out £738 million to show 38 live Premier League football matches for three seasons. In February 2015, it extended its Premier League deal by another three seasons, paying £960 million to secure the rights to 42 live matches.

Some might argue that ploughing almost £4 billion into football broadcast rights alone, plus the cost of producing the coverage and hiring top talent to front it, could have been better spent elsewhere – on a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network, for instance.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that compelling content is proving crucial for any telco that wants to compete at the high end of the retail market, and premium sports channels are a tried and tested means of attracting customers.

At the end of December 2016, BT’s TV customer base stood at 1.7 million, up by 52,000 year-on-year.

BT on Monday said it is in a strong position to monetise its sports investment following the acquisition of EE last year, which more than doubled its marketable customer base.

Furthermore, BT used to bundle its BT Sport channels for free with its TV service, but from August it will apply a £3.50 monthly charge for TV customers who subscribe to its entry-level package. BT broadband customers who access the channels via Sky TV will also pay an extra £1.50 per month from 2 April.

"We are delighted to have renewed these rights," Petter said.