Chris Blackhurst: All part of the game plan - Olympic warm-up, then soccer victory for BT

Midweek View

Whenever I meet City old-timers, the talk inevitably turns to the "good old days" of hostile takeovers and bitter rivalries. Business today, we moan, is oh so polite, in public anyway, with bids, if there are any, all agreed and cosy, and everyone getting on like a house on fire.

Thank God then, for BT and Sky. Suddenly, with BT's grabbing of the live Champions League matches for a whistle-inducing £900m we've a genuine, red-blooded contest to sit back and savour.

Who will win? If you'd asked me that question as recently as a few weeks ago, I would have said Sky for sure. They had all the snapping fury handed down to them by their founder Rupert Murdoch, theirs was a sheer aggression that brooked no opposition.

But then I met Sir Mike Rake, the BT chairman, and I was not so certain. When I said going for football TV rights (last year BT bought the ability to show 38 Premier League games a season and has since followed up by giving football away free to its broadband customers) was a desperate, defensive play by BT, the boss visibly bristled. "No. What we did with the Olympics last year [BT was a London 2012 sponsor] was part of an extremely well-thought-through strategy. Football was a follow-on to that. We took the view that Sky can use our infrastructure but it won't sell us content at wholesale prices. Therefore we thought we had to do it ourselves and put our money where our mouth is."

Sir Mike added: "Our team has done very well. We're managing it, we're creating competition. Sky has been a fantastically successful company, but we believe the playing field has not been level, and now we're going to level it."

As he said this last bit, he was grinning. I took two messages from the encounter: any notion that BT was not pursuing a deliberate plan was wrong; second, he and his colleagues are fully determined.

It's been too easy to underestimate BT and, to an extent, Sir Mike. BT, the sleepy, formerly state-owned landline provider; owner of moribund telephone exchanges; a has-been in comparison to the slicker, new players. Sir Mike, its accountant chairman, the latest president of the CBI, itself an organisation that smacks more of padded establishment comfort than tooth-and-claw scrapping.

Even BT, however, could not sit back and do nothing as Sky started destroying its subscriber base with the "triple play" offering of TV, broadband and home phone. To make it worse, where once Sky had relied on satellite dishes to reach customers, now it was using cabling installed by that very same BT.

The come-ons for those signing up to Sky were movies and sport. Relying on technology to stem the tide was not enough – people put hardware second and the ability to watch films and football first.

What's clear from Sir Mike is that BT treated the Olympics as a warming-up exercise, a soft launch of its new approach. If the company's involvement in the Games had been a flop there might have been a rethink. As it was, the decision to back London 2012, taken by Sir Mike and the then CEO Ian Livingston, and masterminded in practice by Mr Livingston's successor Gavin Patterson, soon proved to be an unalloyed triumph.

BT was the official communication services partner. This saw the company host the London 2012 website, which had more than 450 million visits – four times the number to the previous Beijing Games site. While this and other statistics for broadband and mobile traffic were impressive, BT went further, creating live big-screen sites in parks across the country and laying on free music concerts from the likes of Blur and Snow Patrol. These, and more, earned it a largely unnoticed accolade. According to a TLG/Populus survey, politicians and business leaders named BT as the company that made the greatest corporate contribution to the success of the Games, and it came second in terms of greatest positive change to its reputation as a result of sponsoring the Games.

Mr Patterson describes London 2012 Olympics as a "light bulb moment". It was a warning Sky would have done well to heed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map