MILAN (Reuters) - European pay-TV group Sky confirmed on Wednesday it had won exclusive rights to broadcast UEFA Champions League matches in Italy from 2018, beating Italian broadcaster Mediaset.
Mediaset won the last auction in 2014 for the right to air Europe's biggest soccer competition, paying just under 700 million euros ($789 million) for three seasons, raising its cost base but giving it an advantage over rival Sky.
Sky Italia said in a statement it had won exclusive rights to air over 340 matches of Champions League and Europa League matches for three seasons starting in 2018, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
Although the group did not say how much it had offered, a source close to the matter said Sky's Italian subsidiary won with a bid of between 270-290 million euros per season.
The source added that Mediaset's rival bid was in excess of the 227 million euros per season it offered last time, without giving a precise figure.
A separate source told Reuters the winning bid by Sky Italia was around 260 million euros per season, including Europa League matches.
Sky Italia Chief Executive Andrea Zappia said in a statement he was "very happy with the result (of the tender)... which reinforces Sky's position in sports programming in Italy".
The group has 4.8 million subscribers in Italy.
Mediaset said in a statement its offer was "important but rational" and higher than the one offered in the past auction, but it did not disclose the amount.
"Other operators attributed a higher value to the European competition ... with the aim of gaining a dominating position in the pay-TV market," the statement added.
Mediaset's pay-TV brand Premium has 2 million subscribers who are mainly drawn to its sports channels but it has failed to add enough customers to offset the money spent on the broadcasting rights for the 2015-2018 season.
In January, Mediaset, which is controlled by the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said it was ready to scale down Premium and stop showing soccer matches if they became too costly.
It said it would bid for the Champions League rights but only with an "opportunistic approach", to ensure the sustainability of its business.
Mediaset failed to sell its pay-TV business to France's Vivendi last year, dragging the company into the red and prompting its management to rethink its strategy for the loss-making channel.
In Britain, Sky was beaten by BT, which retained the Champions League rights by agreeing to pay 1.2 billion pounds ($1.5 billion), nearly a third more than the previous auction.
But in Germany, Sky Deutschland secured a sub-licence deal with digital content and media provider Perform Group to show UEFA's games in the country from next year.
In France, Vivendi's pay-TV business was beaten to the Champions League rights by a 350 million euros per year bid from Altice, putting it under further pressure.
($1 = 0.8872 euros)
($1 = 0.7814 pounds)
Reporting by Giancarlo Navach; additional reporting by Giulia Segreti; editing by David Clarke and Elaine Hardcastle