This week will be the most important in the history of Setanta, the Irish broadcaster who – according to the British press – could be forced into administration in the next few days. The implications of such a disaster would be massive for the Premier League and could also cause ripple effects throughout North America, the Caribbean and Australia where Setanta Sports has a major footprint.
There are a number of possibilities that may happen in the next few days. Setanta could receive a last-minute cash infusion. ESPN could ride in to acquire Setanta, or other solutions may happen. But rather than dwell on the what-if scenarios, I think it’s time to consider what Setanta Sports has achieved. And if the unthinkable happens, what the fall-out from losing Setanta may mean to football fans worldwide.
My first introduction to Setanta Sports was during the early 1990’s. Every Saturday morning, I drove 30 miles from Wellington, Florida to The Ugly Duckling Pub in Boca Raton, paid the $10 cover charge to get in and then sat back and watched the one Premier League match that kicked off at 3pm GMT. I don’t remember a lot from those mid-morning games other than watching the match on one of those old, boxy giant-screen TVs. The whole experience was like stepping into a room to witness a live two-hour broadcast of an out-of-this world phenomenon, which in many ways it was.
The football in the early-to-mid 90’s was vastly different to what we experience now. I do remember seeing the meteoric rise of Newcastle United under Kevin Keegan, watching Eric Cantona and company rise to the occasion for Manchester United, and the flashy kits juxtaposed against muddy pitches while the crowd noise deafened the pubgoers beside me.
In those days, if you asked most fellow pubgoers who Setanta was, I would imagine that very few of them would know. The games magically appeared on the giant screen beamed via the satellite signals courtesy of Setanta. But the games themselves, both before during and after, featured very little branding or placement of the Setanta logo.
A few years later and Fox Sports World acquired the TV rights to the Premier League. But Setanta Sports was still alive and well in the United States. I specifically remember squeezing into a packed George & Dragon Pub in Fort Lauderdale on November 10, 1997 to watch England play Italy in a crucial World Cup qualifier match that was played in Rome. The 0-0 draw was enough to see England qualify for World Cup 1998. And the boisterous pubgoers were jubilant.
The closed-circuit screening of the England match was courtesy of Setanta. Throughout the 90’s Setanta played a pivotal role in bringing international matches to not only the public in the United States, but also to football fans in the United Kingdom. You have to remember that at that time, it was incredibly rare and difficult to be able to see your international team on television unless you lived in the home country. That’s how Setanta got its start in 1990 when the founders beamed Republic of Ireland matches to Irish ex-pats in a west London pub.
Back in those halcyon days when Setanta and pubs were synonymous, few could have predicted the meteoric rise of the Irish broadcaster into what they are today which is a serious player in the UK, Irish, Australian and North American markets. Sure, they sit on the precipice of disaster, but over the years you have to tip your hat to them for changing the football landscape and bringing us more coverage of English football than ever before. And let’s not forget Special1 TV.
Whatever happens this week, let’s hope that Setanta Sports survives and carries on. The football world would be a much different place without them.
What are your first memories of seeing a match on Setanta, and what are your thoughts about the possibility of Setanta going out of business? Will ESPN swoop in to acquire the Irish broadcaster, or will the TV rights be placed on the open market for new bids if the unthinkable happens? Click the comments link below and share your thoughts.