Sky claims rights to top-four clashes as BT holds first picks in reserve

• Sky has exclusive rights to every game among top four
• BT Sport coverage kicks off with Liverpool v Stoke City

With pointed reference to the omnipresent multimillion pound advertising campaign launched by BT Sport, Sky Sports said there was nothing "game-changing" about the initial tranche of fixtures chosen by its new rival as both unveiled their opening batch of matches.

Sky has attempted to spike the guns of its new competitor by choosing the first matches of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City – all of whom have new managers – on the opening weekend of the season. BT, meanwhile, will open the campaign with Liverpool v Stoke City in its new Saturday lunchtime slot and is not able to use one of its much vaunted "first picks" until mid-September when Manchester United take onnewly promoted Crystal Palace.

Sky can claim to has exclusive rights to every clash among last season's top four, plus 24 of 32 live matches involving Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal up to the beginning of December. However, BT executives insisted they were "thrilled" by the games they have secured, which include the Merseyside derby.

"We have only used five of our top picks, which means that BT Sport will have another 13 throughout the remainder of the season, so our viewers have many more excellent Premier League games to come," said BT Sport director Simon Green. "In the first 13 Premier League rounds until December, we will show the biggest clubs at least twice including Tottenham taking on serious title contenders in both matches, against Manchester United and Chelsea."

BT only has fourth pick of the live matches on 20 rounds of the fixture list but first pick on the other 18, making it the first broadcaster to be able to challenge Sky's claim always to show the biggest clashes. BT, which paid £738m over three years for 38 matches per season, will give its channels away free to its broadband subscribers. Sky has countered by making the opening day of its coverage available free to air for the first time, including David Moyes' first match against Swansea City at Old Trafford.

In all, Sky will show 116 live matches having agreed to pay £2.3bn over three seasons for the privilege. Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis denied that its tactic of frontloading the schedule with attractive matches would give BT the advantage in the run in. Sky has 12 "first pick" weekends for the remaining 20 rounds of fixtures, while BT will be left with eight.

The new entrant also has a further five "first pick" slots in midweek rounds of fixtures, but they must be used before February. Behind the complex game of chess over choosing which fixtures to broadcast, which has angered supporters' groups who claim fans have not been able to plan their travel, lies a long term battle for supremacy of the sports broadcasting landscape.

"BT has made no difference to our selections, there isn't anything particularly game-changing about what we're seeing today," insisted Francis, who has hired Jamie Carragher as a pundit and revamped Sky's Saturday schedule to respond to the threat from BT, which plans a live show fronted by Jake Humphrey to run throughout the afternoon. Carragher, who will appear alongside Gary Neville on Monday Night Football, said Sky had "the best team on the best lineup of live football".

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