BSkyB refused a £50m (E58m) lifeline to Irish pay-TV broadcaster Setanta which had offered access to its live rights for 46 English Premier League games next season as an add-on option to Sky Sports, in return for the cash.
Subsequently Setanta’s founders Leonard Ryan and Michael O’Rourke have been in emergency talks with backers to secure financing to keep the firm going.
Meanwhile US sports broadcaster ESPN is also said to be interested in either buying the Irish firm for a nominal sum or simply bidding for its rights to the Premier League.
While Setanta says it is carrying on as normal while new backing is sought, it appears to have closed its online and telephone subscription sales services.
BSkyB’s chief executive, Jeremy Darroch, said it had been “talking to Setanta, and trying to work with them and help them”, but that it could not agree to the Irish company’s proposal. Under the current UK broadcast deal, which lasts for one more season, BSkyB holds four packages of rights to show live Premier League matches next season – a total of 92 games.
Setanta could act as a wholesaler – retaining the rights, but then selling on the football coverage, which rivals would show through their channels. It already does this for Virgin Media, which makes Setanta channels available as part of its more expensive packages.
Setanta, which shows cricket, golf and rugby union as well as football, has about 1.2 million subscribers, but this is only about 60% of the number it needs, according to analysts. Consequently, the company is losing up to £100m a year.