ESPN today announced that it had won the exclusive UK mobile rights for the highlights of all Premier League matches for the next three seasons, in what could prove to be an extraordinarily significant move for the Disney-owned sports channel.
ESPN have snatched the rights from Sky. Previously, in the first flush of 3G enthusiasm a decade ago, the rights had been held by mobile phone companies 3 and Vodafone. Industry sources are now watching closely to discover the necessary partnerships ESPN forms in order to be able to deliver the highlights packages to people’s phones.
In a sports broadcasting market that is in a state of flux since Ofcom ruled last week that BSkyB should charge its broadcast rivals less for the facility of transmitting the matches to which it holds the rights – a ruling which the Premier League today announced it would challenge in the courts – ESPN’s grabbing of rights that had previously been held by Sky and other, established phone companies, may prove to be very timely.
It is estimated that half a billion people around the world saw some part of Saturday’s Premier League clash between champions Manchester United and challengers Chelsea. With the launch in the past month of Apple’s iPad and the rapidly growing smartphone market, ESPN may have acquired mobile highlights rights at just the right time, as people’s viewing habits are changing and the technology for delivering TV pictures improves relentlessly.
In a statement posted on the ESPN website this morning, Lynne Frank, the company’s managing director for Europe the Middle East and Africa, said, “Mobile devices are an indispensible lifeline for football fans, who expect easy, quick access to the latest goals and action wherever they are. Adding these rights will allow us to advance our commitment to delivering great sport across the many screens UK fans use each day.
“Since we launched ESPN in the UK less than 250 days ago, we have been dedicated to building the foundation of a long-term relationship with UK sports fans. This is another big step in that process.”
Last year, ESPN picked up the Premier League rights which becamse available when the Irish satellite sports channel, Setanta, went bust. From August, it will show 23 games each season through to the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Today’s announcement will further boost the Prermier League’s increasingly bullish outlook to its business. The Premier League is expected to confirm next month that the sale of its overseas-broadcasting rights for 2010-13 will raise around £1.4 billion, more than double the previous value.
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