But new BT chief executive Gavin Patterson admits the majority are existing broadband customers adding the new service for free
BT has signed up more than half a million households to its sports channels ahead of their launch next week, when the start of the Premier League season kicks off the latest challenge to Sky's dominance of football broadcasting.
Incoming BT chief executive Gavin Patterson, who heads the group's retail business, said the company had set its sights on the millions of UK homes that would like to watch sport but cannot afford Sky's high prices.
But Patterson said the vast majority of new signings are Sky TV customers who can receive the BT channels free via satellite without giving up their Sky package.
Most are already BT broadband customers, who have now been asked to sign 12-month contracts. The telecoms company's decision to give away expensively acquired sports rights is partly designed to stem the loss of broadband and phone customers to Sky and rival budget pay TV service TalkTalk.
"Some of them will take TV from us and some of them will continue to take TV from Sky and we're relaxed about that," said Patterson. "We realise many customers are attached to Sky TV."
The new viewers have come at a high price. BT has spent £736m for the right to broadcast 38 Premier League games a season, and a further £40m on setting up and marketing its channels in the most recent financial quarter, the company said on Thursday.
BT's pay TV service added just 23,000 homes in the three months to 30 June, a marked seasonal slow down on the 40,000 added in the previous quarter. Since making its debut in pay TV 2007 years ago, BT has acquired just 833,000 paying TV customers.
Rival service TalkTalk, which entered the budget end of the pay TV market in earnest nine months ago, added 160,000 customers in its most recent quarter and now boasts 390,000 homes.
However, BT has achieved its smallest decline in income in 16 consecutive quarters, analysts at Merrill Lynch said. Revenues fell just over 1% to £4.5bn, buoyed by strong sales of superfast fibre internet connections at a better performance at its global services division.
Patterson warned that Virgin Media's cable customers may "never" have access to BT's sports content. Virgin carries the Sky sports channels and was able to offer its customers all the Premier League games by carrying ESPN, which shared rights to the matches with Sky before BT won them. Asked whether Virgin would eventually carry the BT Sport channels, Patterson said: "We are in discussions but it depends how those discussions go. It might never. They may need to consider their choices. It's another reason why customers might chose to switch over from Virgin to BT."