With Setanta UK on the verge of going into administration after losing the TV rights to the Premier League through 2013 in the UK as well as losing the TV rights to the Scottish Premier League, the demise of Setanta UK looks certain. It may be days or hours before the plug is pulled.
The big question is what will happen to Setanta US?
While Setanta UK is floundering, Setanta US is a lean organization with very little overhead, a small staff, no studios or highly-paid presenters and, most importantly, are profitable and retain a large percentage of the rights to the Premier League on US TV for the 2009-2010 season which they had sub-licensed from Fox Soccer Channel. Setanta US also owns the broadband rights to the Champions League for the next three years, as well as many World Cup qualifiers, Carling Cup, Coca-Cola Championship, Russian Premier League, MUTV, Chelsea TV and shares the rights to the FA Cup with Fox Soccer Channel.
If and when Setanta UK goes into administration, Setanta US will continue to broadcast. The only difference will be that any programming that comes out of the UK studios will no longer be available. That includes shows such as Football Matters, the Friday Football Show and presumably Setanta Sports News (which is produced by ITN). As long as Setanta Ireland continues, then Setanta US will continue to show a lot of its popular shows such as Special 1 TV and its pre-game and post-game analysis featuring Paul Dempsey and Pat Dolan. Setanta US often picks up the Setanta Ireland feed for Premier League matches, but even if Setanta Ireland was sold or went out of business, Setanta US would pick up the TWI/IMG international feed for Premier League games instead.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Setanta US, even as a separate organization, is in a perilous position right now. The channel will be tarnished by the negative publicity that has been generated around Setanta UK and has presumably seen a decrease in the number of subscriber sales in the US as well as an increase in the number of cancellations by consumers who are either concerned or confused about the future of Setanta US.
The timing of Setanta UK’s demise is unfortunate for Setanta US. The jewel crown of the TV rights business, the English Premier League, is up for bidding in the United States in a few months from now for the 2010-2013 seasons. If Setanta UK folds and Setanta US survives, the big question is whether Setanta US will still have the funding available to mount a serious bid for the TV rights to the Premier League.
It’s important to point out that ESPN’s acquisition yesterday of a minority of the Premier League TV rights in the United Kingdom was done in co-operation with BSkyB. Sky will end up distributing the Premier League matches for ESPN. BSkyB is owned by Rupert Murdoch who owns News Corp. The giant News Corp owns Sky Sports and Fox, which of course owns Fox Soccer Channel. A precedent has been set for ESPN and Sky to do business deals together (ESPN also works with Sky Sports in Asia for Star Sports), so it’s plausible to assume that Fox Soccer Channel may be interested in agreeing a similar deal with ESPN when the Premier League rights are finalized in the U.S. in the Fall of 2009.
Whether Setanta Sports may be forced out of the US Premier League TV rights race is to be seen, but right now the bigger worry for soccer fans in the United States is whether Setanta US may be bought by ESPN or someone else.
The future of Setanta US should be a grave concern for soccer fans in the United States. Without Setanta US, soccer fans will see a dramatic drop in the quantity and quality of English football coverage. Many of us don’t remember or have forgotten how few games there were on Fox before Setanta became involved. And in many ways we’ve been spoilt the last few years with coverage of almost all Premier League games all season long as well as mid-week Carling Cup games, Coca-Cola Championship matches, friendlies, tons of international games and more.
My hope is that Setanta US continues to run its operation as it has done in the past. But in the world of business and finances, it’s often difficult to know what discussions are going on behind-the-scenes at private companies and whether ESPN are in talks with Setanta US right now or not.
What we do know is that the story is far from over and that soccer fans in the United States should keep track of this evolving drama. Be sure to stay updated to EPL Talk for the latest developments.