Setanta Sports’s decision Thursday to sub-license the U.S. Internet rights to the Carling Cup, Coca-Cola Championship League and Football League to ESPN sends a message loud and clear that the Disney-owned corporation has the Premier League in its sights.
In the agreement between ESPN and Setanta, ESPN will broadcast many live Carling Cup, Championship and Football League matches via ESPN360.com in the United States. ESPN360.com’s schedule will include up to two Football League matches per week (totaling up to 84 matches this season), Football League playoff and final matches, and will feature five matches from rounds 1-5, four semi-final matches and the finals from Carling Cup competition.
In total, ESPN 360 will bring live coverage (and replay availability) for up to 100 English soccer games this season.
As of press time, it’s unclear how this new agreement will affect the availability of Carling Cup and Championship matches on Setanta Broadband.
In many ways, the agreement between Setanta and ESPN is mixed news for soccer fans. For those who have access to ESPN360, it’s a great coup to get free access to some top games via broadband. But ESPN360 isn’t available to everyone… only those consumers who ar with cable companies who have contracted a deal with ESPN360. So, if you’re like me and your local Comcast cable company hasn’t signed a deal with ESPN, you can expect to see a screenshot like the one pictured below.
The availability of ESPN360 aside, the move by ESPN sends a message to soccer fans and Fox Soccer Channel that the Disney-owned company is serious about expanding its coverage of live games.
If ESPN can make a move like this, what’s stopping them from aggressively bidding for the TV rights to the Premier League when they go on the auction block next year? Fox Soccer Channel currently owns the TV rights in the United States and sub-licenses many of the games to Setanta Sports, but Fox’s ownership of the rights will be in serious jeopardy if ESPN decides to throw its hat in the ring.
ESPN’s agreement with Setanta Sports hints at the possibility of both of these networks working closer together in the future. For example, if ESPN wins the TV rights to the Premier League in the United States, it’s very possible that ESPN may sub-license some of the games to Setanta to carry on its network — especially since ESPN would be unable to show all the games available simulteanously.
The partnership between ESPN and Setanta spells bad news for Fox Soccer Channel. Without the Premier League, Fox will never be the same.