BT strengthen sports profile by agreeing deal to show women's tennis

BT will launch two channels in July and is building its sports profile

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The Independent Online

BT today announced the latest part of its plan to become a major British sports broadcaster by signing a deal with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to show as much as 800 hours per year of live tennis.

The telecom company will hope to cash in on the upturn in British women’s tennis by showing live matches from 21 WTA tournaments across the globe. Britain now has two players, Laura Robson and Heather Watson, ranked in the WTA Top-50 - the first time that has happened since July 1987.

The BT Sport deal is for four years and includes the five elite WTA tournaments – Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Beijing and Istanbul.  During the 2013 season, the rights will be held jointly with previous holder Eurosport, but from 2014 will be exclusively owned by BT Sport.

BT will launch two channels in July and is building its sports profile. Last year it spent £738 million on 38 live Premier League football matches per season and will replace ESPN as the ‘second provider’ after BSkyB in August. It is believed to be keen to also bid for Champions League and England matches and might even buy out the final years of ESPN’s FA Cup contract.

BT has also announced a deal for domestic rugby union rights and is at the centre of a dispute over the future shape of European rugby competition.

Simon Green, head of BT Sport, said: “This is our first women’s sport for the channels and we see a genuine opportunity to really develop the exposure for women’s sport with our new channels. We are focusing on several more women’s sports and we hope to be able to announce more rights soon.

“Women’s tennis is the highest profile women’s sport, attracting a global audience of 185 million viewers. It’s a good moment for the British women, with Laura and Heather starting to challenge for honours. We want to follow their story over the next few years, as well as showcasing the world’s best players in the tournaments that help determine their world rankings.”

Stacey Allaster, WTA chairman and CEO, said:  “The UK has long been a fantastic market for women’s tennis, with some of the very best and most knowledgeable fans in the world.”

“Along with BT Sport, we look forward to bringing the best in women’s tennis, including Britain’s rising stars Laura Robson and Heather Watson, to the fans of Great Britain.”

BT has chosen the iCITY, the former International Broadcast Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, as the home of its BT Sport channels. BT Sport will show 38 live games a season from the Barclays Premier League, including 18 of the top clashes, for three years from August 2013. The channels will also show 69 live rugby union games a season from the Aviva Premiership.