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ITV enters running for BT Sport acquisition?

ITV enters running for BT Sport acquisition?
© Reuters
ITV reportedly emerges as a serious contender to take a stake in BT Sport.

ITV has reportedly emerged as a contender for taking a stake in BT Sport in a move that could see the Champions League - and possibly top-flight football - return to free-to-air television.

Telecoms giant BT has appointed investment bank Lazard to explore the possibility of selling a stake in BT Sport as it instead focuses investment in its high-speed broadband services.

Launched in 2013 as an effective replacement for Disney-owned ESPN in the UK, BT Sport has an impressive portfolio of sports rights, including Premier League games, the Champions League, the Europa League, Germany's Bundesliga, France's Ligue 1, the FA Cup and Premiership rugby, among others.

Initial interest in BT Sport is believed to have come from Disney, Amazon Prime Video and streaming service DAZN, and The Telegraph now reports that they have been joined by the UK's largest commercial broadcaster ITV.

ITV and BT already work together on the Youview service, while BT is said to have previously considered investing in BritBox, ITV's joint-venture streaming service with the BBC.

The news of a potential tie-up, which could see some of BT's games broadcast on ITV's channels, comes more than 18 years after the embarrassing collapse of ITV Digital.

The pay-TV service - a predecessor to Freeview - was forced into administration after ITV's big-money bet on rights to the Football League failed to pay off, leaving scores of clubs in severe financial trouble.

A 50% stake in BT Sport has been valued at £500 million by some analysts, although the company is said to be open to the prospect of an outright sale if the conditions are favourable.

In a stock market announcement on Thursday, BT said: "Further to media reports, BT can confirm that early discussions are being held with a number of select strategic partners, to explore ways to generate investment, strengthen our sports business, and help take it to the next stage in its growth. The discussions are confidential and may or may not lead to an outcome."

Shares in BT stood at 165.1p at the close of business on Friday, up 6.5% on Monday's opening price of 154.9p.

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