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ESPN to air live Premier League matches in Britain

sports Updated: Jun 23, 2009 07:02 IST

AP
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ESPN will broadcast live Premier League matches for the first time in Britain after gaining rights from financially troubled Setanta Sports.

ESPN, owned by The Walt Disney Co, acquired the rights on Monday to televise 46 matches next season and 23 in each of the three seasons from 2010-11 in its first major contract to broadcast live sports in Britain.

"Premier League football is one of the world's most sought after sports properties," said Russell Wolff, ESPN International's executive vice president and managing director. "This move demonstrates our commitment to British sports fans and our ongoing commitment to delivering football to fans around the world across a variety of media."

Setanta's British operation is set to enter administration on Tuesday. Deloitte has already been lined up to act as administrator should the network, which employs 430 people, be declared bankrupt. The bidding process for the Premier League rights started a week ago when the future of Setanta became clouded.

Neither ESPN or the Premier League released financial details of Monday's agreement, but it is thought to match the amounts Setanta owed. Since Setanta had already made payments upfront, it is reported that ESPN paid less than the 130 million pounds ($212 million) agreed by Setanta for next season's rights, followed by 159 million pounds in the subsequent years of the contract. Neither party released financial details, but ESPN is reportedly matching the revenue due from the scrapped Setanta deal by paying 130 million pounds ($212 million) next season, followed by 159 million pounds in the subsequent years of the contract. ESPN already has two channels in Britain, one with American sports and another with archived action. A third channel is set to be launched in time for the start of the new season in August as part of an expansion in Britain, 30 years after the network changed the face of broadcasting in the United States when it launched with a single all-sports cable network.

It now operates more than 45 channels globally. ESPN is also interested in acquiring the Scottish Premier League rights, which were taken off Setanta on Monday after it failed to pay three million pounds ($5 million) as scheduled. The rest of Setanta's portfolio of rights, including some England football internationals and the FA Cup could become available if the network collapses after a potential rescue package fell through last week.

The collapse of that deal meant that the company was unable to meet last Friday's deadline to pay the Premier League, leading to the broadcaster losing the rights.

Deloitte has been lined up to act as administrator should Setanta, which employs 430 people, be declared bankrupt. The bidding process for the Premier League rights only started a week ago when the future of Setanta became clouded. "The timescale of our process was tight to say the least, and it is to the great credit of ESPN that they committed themselves to adding Premier League football to their already impressive portfolio of sports rights," Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said.

Sky Sports, part of Rupert Murdoch's global broadcasting network, has the rights to air the majority of Premier League matches live in Britain. US rights are held by Fox Soccer Channel, part of Murdoch's News Corp, which sublicenses some to Setanta US. Earlier this year, ESPN was outbid by Setanta for the three-year rights to air 23 live matches per season starting in 2010. ESPN channels showing Premier League games will be part of packages retailed by Sky. Central to Setanta's decline was its need to sell subscriptions to its own channels. It had sold just 1.2 million of these while teetering on the brink of administration, short of the reported 1.9 million it needs to break even. Under existing deals, Sky will air 92 matches next season and in the following three seasons 115, including 38 first-choice matches and a large majority of the second-choice games.

Setanta is also the broadcast partner of club channels for Arsenal, Liverpool, Rangers and Celtic.

Liverpool, which runs its own channel and uses Setanta as a distribution partner, has a contingency plan to continue broadcasting free online until an alternative television distributor can be found.