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Following recent speculation that ESPN was seeking to dispose of its UK and Ireland television channels business, having failed to secure any package of Premier League football rights for the coming three seasons, BT Group and ESPN have agreed that BT will acquire ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business.
These primarily comprise the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga.
The transaction is expected to complete on July 31, 2013 after which BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel which is expected to form part of the BT Sport TV package that will be launched by BT this summer. Additionally, the deal will allow BT to continue to show a host of US sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and NASCAR. The ESPN channels will be broadcast from BT Sport’s new home in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. Until completion, the service for current subscribers to the ESPN channels across all television platforms remains unchanged.
The deal will enable BT Sport customers to see live coverage of the FA Cup for the 2013/14 season, the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League until the end of the 2016/17 season and the UEFA Europa League and German Bundesliga through to the end of the 2014/15 season. These join the broadcast rights that BT Sport has previously announced, including 38 live Barclays Premier League matches – including 18 of the top clashes – in each of the next three seasons (beginning August 2013); 69 live Aviva Premiership Rugby matches for the next four seasons; and up to 800 hours per season of live women’s tennis, including the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.
ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses which include multisport news and information portal ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo (cricket), ESPNFC (football), ESPNscrum (rugby), ESPNF1 (Formula 1) and broadband streaming service ESPN Player. ESPN Classic has been excluded from the proposed transaction.
Marc Watson, chief executive of television, BT Retail, said the acquisition added some exciting new sports rights to the ones BT already had. “The FA Cup, Scottish Premier League and Europa League rights will allow us to offer customers of BT Sport even more quality live football, including our first games from the Scottish top flight and our first European competition rights. There will also be the best of US sports available courtesy of this deal, which will further broaden the appeal of BT Sport,” he suggested.
Ross Hair, managing director, ESPN – Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “We could not be more proud of the TV channels built and nurtured by our talented team over the past four years. The value of that hard work is reflected in this deal with BT and the continuation of ESPN on television screens across the UK and Ireland. The same passion, commitment and innovation will be at the heart of how we develop our strong digital media business into the future.”
Completion of the transaction is subject to regulatory clearance.
Separate from the agreement with BT, ESPN is proposing the wind-down of ESPN Classic throughout the EMEA region and the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses.