ESPN Acquires UK Premier League TV Rights From Setanta

premier-league1Breaking news. ESPN has acquired all 46 live matches for the 2009-10 season on U.K. TV from the Premier League. The rights were previously held by Setanta Sports up until Friday, but when Setanta failed to pay the Premier League the money it owed them, the Premier League opened the bidding up to Sky, ESPN and other interested parties.

The acquisition of the 46 live games in the United Kingdom is a massive coup for ESPN, which will be their first foray into the U.K. TV market. The two packages they won will allow them to broadcast the Saturday teatime games (5:30pm GMT) and Monday evening games (8pm GMT) on UK TV.

The US broadcaster is thought to have paid about £90m for those games, according to industry sources.

ESPN has also bid successfully for 23 games for three seasons from 2010 in a separate deal.

According to The Guardian newspaper, “ESPN has also reached a distribution deal with BSkyB, which will screen the Premier League games it was awarded today from next season and beyond. The US company said it had reached an agreement with Sky, but would also make the games “widely available across multiple pay-TV platforms”. ESPN added that the Sky deal was a “first step” in its distribution strategy, which suggest that further deals with cable operator Virgin Media, and other digital TV operators including Freeview are likely to be struck. ESPN also said that as part of the Sky arrangement, BSkyB would make games available to “commercial customers”, which implies that the pay-TV giant will sell games to pubs on ESPN’s behalf. Sky had a similar arrangement with Setanta.”

Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore, said: “The Premier League is extremely pleased to have added ESPN as a UK rights holder. They have a formidable worldwide reputation and experience in sports and I am sure we will enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with them.

“I would like to thank ESPN, as well as all the other broadcasters who submitted bids, for their professionalism and effort in engaging in our sales process at such short notice.

“The timescale of our process was tight to say the least, and it is to the great credit of ESPN that they committed themselves to adding Barclays Premier League football to their already impressive portfolio of sports rights.

“The speed at which we have been able to conclude this deal means that the preparations for next season will be able to continue without interruption and fans and clubs will have certainty over the broadcasting of Barclays Premier League matches for the next four seasons.”

Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International, said: “Premier League football is one of the world’s most sought after sports properties. We are very excited to be working with the Premier League and expanding our businesses in the UK.

“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.”

How does this impact soccer fans in the United States? Right now, it makes no difference. ESPN acquiring the rights in the UK will have no influence over the United States since the rights are sold separately in each international market. But what the news does prove is that ESPN is now serious again about soccer coverage. And this could mean that ESPN may be willing to mount a serious bid for Premier League TV rights in the US when they’re available for bidding later this Fall.

Earlier today, ESPN announced that they have made an agreement with GolTV to show some La Liga matches on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes beginning this summer for the next three seasons.

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