ESPN grabs Premier League rights for £90m

ESPN, the Disney-owned American network, has won the rights to the FA Premier League packages ceded by Setanta last week when the struggling Irish sports channel missed making its latest £10 million payment.

ESPN’s first move into English “soccer” rights was hailed by the company as “a huge step for our business”.

According to early reports, ESPN has agreed to pay £90 million for two packages of 23 games each – the Monday night matches and the Saturday tea time slot – beginning this August. Setanta had originally agreed to pay £131 million for the same bundles of games, but had already paid around £40 million towards the cost of the 2009-2010 season, meaning that the Premier League clubs will not be financially disadvantaged.

BSkyB, which already has four of six Premier League packages, did not acquire any additional English matches. European competition rulings had demanded competition for TV sports rights. Sky already holds the right to five out of six packages for the three years from the 2010-2011 season, a situation which ultimately made it impossible for Setanta to raise sufficient commercial borrowing to continue to meet its obligations.

Sky is expected to try to pick up any rights to the Scottish Premier League after Setanta admitted today that it would be unable to meet its next £3 million payment for those rights.

ESPN has never before been successful in its attempts to acquire English soccer rights. ESPN has also reached a distribution deal with Sky, and the American company said it would also make the games “widely available across multiple pay-TV platforms”. It suggested that the games are likely yo be available via othe operators, such as cable network Virgin Media and Freeview.

“The Premier League is extremely pleased to have added ESPN as a UK rights holder,” said Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive who on Friday pulled the plug on Setanta, denying the company any further time in order to make its latest payment.

Of ESPN, Scudamore said, “They have a formidable worldwide reputation and experience in sport and I am sure we will enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with them.”

ESPN International’s managing director, Russell Wolff, said: “Premier League football is one of the world’s most sought-after sports properties, and we are very excited to be expanding our business in the UK with England’s top football product.

“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.”

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