Setanta Sports News set to launch

Irish sports broadcaster lands coup of live rights to England’s away World Cup qualifying matches in same week it launches sports news channel

Setanta Sports News, a rival to Sky Sports News and the first sports news channel to be launched in the UK in15 years, is set to go live this Thursday, November 29.

Programming is to be produced by ITN, the Gray’s Inn Road broadcasters who already deliver news programmes for ITV and Channel 4. The new channel’s three-year contract with ITN is worth £10 million per year.

ITN chief executive Mark Wood said the format will be “young and fairly chatty” with a heavy emphasis on Premiership football – though golf, which Setanta Sports shows extensively – tennis and horse racing will be part of the mix too.

After recruiting 60 staff in the past month, Wood said: “We think our visuals are better than Sky’s. We are looking for more exciting presentation and we want more reporting.”

The programme editor is Geoff Hill.

The sports news channel is being launched in support of Setanta’s growing portfolio of sports rights, which has expanded from Scottish League to the English Premiership this season, when Setanta Sports ended Sky’s 15-year monopoly of live league soccer in England.

World Cup winners
Today, Setanta announced that it has secured the rights to most of England’s away qualifying matches for the 2010 football World Cup, and more than 80 other World Cup qualifiers, which will begin next autumn.

As well as England games, the broadcaster will air exclusive live coverage of all Scotland’s away qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, against Holland, Norway, Macedonia and Iceland; as well as Wales’ matches against Russia, Finland and Azerbaijan.

Setanta also has Northern Ireland’s away ties against Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia; and Ireland’s games in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Montenegro.

As part of the rights package, struck with rights holders Sport Five and Kentaro, Setanta will also air another 72 matches from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

ITV has the rights to air England’s home qualifiers as part of a £425 million deal, in conjunction with Setanta, with the Football Association to show FA Cup and England home internationals.

The terrestrial broadcaster paid £275 million for the four-year deal, which kicks in from next August, giving the broadcaster England’s competitive home games, friendly away fixtures and first pick for FA Cup games.

Setanta’s £150 million secured it the live rights to England’s home friendlies, under-21 internationals, the Community Shield and FA Trophy.

The World Cup deal leaves rivals pay-broadcasters Sky shorn of its international coverage.

It was reported at the weekend that Setanta had raised more cash for further rights purchases.

The £90 million funding has come from a share issue to existing backers – including Doughty Hanson and Balderton Capital, the private equity firms, and Goldman Sachs.

More than 20 per cent of Setanta is owned by its founders, Michael O’Rourke and Leonard Ryan, and their management team.

Richard Brooke, Setanta’s corporate development director, said: “This is our war chest.”

But the channel’s subscription revenues are not yet sufficient to finance new rights deals. Prices have been slashed and contracts shortened from one year to one month as Setanta works to grow its premium sports audience in Britain and Ireland from 400,000 to 1 million by next summer.

The company hopes to break even by mid-2009 but could face competition on digital terrestrial from next summer as Sky is lobbying for permission to launch a pay-TV service to Freeview customers.

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