LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - Pay television company BSkyB announced a surprise five-year extension to its contract 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 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, which is made up of the 72 professional clubs below the Premier League, was only a year into its current three-year TV deal with BSkyB.
The League's Chief Commercial Officer told Reuters earlier this year that it 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.