May 11, 2017 / 8:57 AM / 2 months ago

France's SFR to pay 350 million euros a year for Champions League rights - sources

Football Soccer - UEFA Champions League Semi-Final Draw - Nyon, Switzerland - 21/4/17 The UEFA Champions League trophy is pictured before the draw of the semi-finals Reuters / Pierre Albouy Livepic

PARIS (Reuters) - French telecoms operator SFR Group has beaten Vivendi's pay-TV Canal Plus and Qatari-controlled beIN Sports channels in gaining the rights to broadcast Champions League soccer matches until 2021 in France.

SFR agreed to pay 350 million euros ($381 million) per year for the rights, two sources close to the matter told Reuters. SFR is also getting the rights in France for the Europa League soccer tournament, which ranks below the main Champions League.

The loss of the rights for Europe's biggest soccer competition, which is also one of the world's most popular sports events, puts further pressure on Canal Plus in France, which has lost many customers in the face of new competition from Netflix and beIN Sports.

It also presents a blow for beIN Sports, which gained many customers via its coverage of the Champions League.

The price SFR agreed to pay is two times bigger than the one paid by Canal Plus and beIN Sports for the 2015-2018 period, during which the two groups shared the TV rights for the Champions League.

The price jump highlights the growing appetite of deep-pocketed telecoms operators for exclusive TV content.

In Britain, BT has beaten arch-rival Sky to retain the rights to broadcast Champions League soccer matches until 2021, agreeing to pay 1.2 billion pounds -- nearly a third more than last time.

In France, SFR Group's parent Altice repeatedly said it was ready to invest heavily in its content offering to lure more customers to its broadband and TV bundles.

It also bought the English Premier League's soccer rights for the three seasons starting in 2016, paying more than 300 million euros for them.

Such investments are weighing on SFR's margins and it remains difficult to evaluate their impact on customers' choices.

($1 = 0.9188 euros)

Editing by Jean-Michel Belot and Mathieu Rosemain

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