By Keith Weir
LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - Pay TV company BSkyB announced a surprise five-year extension to its deal to show live matches from English soccer's lower tiers on Thursday, an early renewal sparked by BT's entry into the market.
Sky Bet, the online betting arm of BSkyB, will also become the title sponsor of the Football League under the new agreement which runs until 2018.
The Football League, made up of the 72 professional clubs below the elite Premier League, was only a year into its current three-year TV deal with BSkyB.
The new TV agreement will be worth between 85-90 million pounds ($129-137 million) per season when it starts in 2015, according to a source close to the talks, up from 65 million pounds under the current deal.
BSkyB will show 148 live matches, an increase from the 111 it shows at present.
The sums involved pale in comparison with the one billion pounds a year that BSkyB and BT are paying for domestic TV rights to the 20-team Premier League.
"It's the biggest deal the League has ever done," said Chief Commercial Officer Richard Heaselgrave.
Heaselgrave had told Reuters earlier this year that the League planned to make an early start on contract renewal talks to capitalise on the growing sporting rivalry between BSkyB and BT.
Telecoms provider BT is launching new sports channels in August, having bought a share of the Premier League rights as a second broadcaster alongside BSkyB.
BT wants to use sports rights to maintain its leadership of the market for broadband services, with many consumers now looking to buy bundles of pay TV, telephony and broadband.
BT underlined its challenge to BSkyB on Wednesday when it did a four-year deal to screen the FA Cup, the leading domestic knock-out competition in English soccer.
The Football League, which has former champions Nottingham Forest and Leeds United in its top tier, had been looking for a sponsor after German owned energy company Npower dropped out at the end of last season.