The Observer’s Richard Wachman reports on British Telecom’s bold new plan to invade sports TV.

BT is to challenge BSkyB by bidding for the rights to televise Premier League football when the current contract expires in 2007.
The plan is being masterminded by BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland, who was boss of London Weekend Television before it was taken over by Granada in 1994.

Bland is determined to build up BT’s newly established entertainment division, headed by Andrew Burke, which aims to offer video-on-demand and pay-TV to every UK household in five years.

Part of Bland’s project involves bidding for the rights to screen Premier League and other British and European soccer matches.

BT is unlikely to go head to head with BSkyB in a bidding war for the entire Premier League contract. Instead, the company is basing its plans on the assumption that the European Commission will rule that the number of Premier League matches shown by BSkyB be limited. That would allow other broadcasters and organisations to get a slice of the highly lucrative pay-TV soccer market.

An observer said: ‘BT reckons the rights to televise Premier League matches will be auctioned off in two, three or even four parcels. It could then pick and choose, but would probably avoid a head-on clash with BSkyB.’

The synergetic possibilities are endless. A ringtone of Andy Gray shouting, for instance.