Advanced Television

ESPN scores as Setanta stumbles

June 24, 2009

Disney-owned ESPN is to broadcast live English Premier League football action in the UK for the first time after securing the rights to show 46 games for the 2009/2010 season and 23 games in each of the three following seasons until May 2013. The rights were made available by the EPL after the holder, Setanta, failed to make a due payment. It didn't say how much it had bid but Premier League sources were reported as claiming 'they weren't out of pocket. Setanta paid £159m (E187m).

Lynne Frank, ESPN MD in Europe, Middle East and Africa described the successful bid as "a huge step" for ESPN's business. The broadcaster plans to make its coverage widely available across multiple pay-TV platforms. As a first step to this distribution strategy, it has reached an agreement for its coverage to be retailed by Sky to residential and commercial customers. It is in talks with Virgin Media, Top Up TV and BT Vision to wholesale its coverage to customers on those platforms.

The loss of EPL rights, together with those for the Scottish Premier League, also for non-payment, clearly jeopardises the viability of Setanta, which teetered on the brink of administration for several weeks. It hit trouble after failing to secure sufficient subscribers to cover the cost of its sports rights. It has 1.2m direct subscribers but needs nearer 1.9m to break even. Setanta won the rights in 2006, breaking BSkyB’s hold on English Premier League football, with a £392m (E458) deal over three seasons from 2007. It is understood ESPN's bid was nearer £250m.

In a separate deal, US soccer-centric channel Gol TV has handed off some of its rights to Spain’s La Liga football action to ESPN. In March 2009, Gol TV, which has aired La Liga action in the US for the past six seasons, renewed its deal with for the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons with rights-holder Mediapro. Gol TV will continue to air 120 matches, with two to three matches per weekend, over La Liga’s 38 rounds.

ESPN's deal gives them the ability for ESPN Deportes to air up to 114 matches while ESPN2 will show approximately 20.


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