It doesn’t look good for Setanta Sports. The network, which over the past decade transformed the soccer landscape in the United States by offering more soccer coverage than anyone else, is on its last legs and in the next 72 hours looks likely to be acquired by Fox Soccer Channel.
While on the surface this sounds like good news, I beg to differ. Here’s why.
Reading between the lines, the logical explanation for Setanta USA having its Premier League and Champions League coverage removed from the list of sports packages it provides is its inability to pay Fox Soccer Channel for the right to sublicense the content. With rising costs for rights fees and consumers cutting back during this recession, it’s difficult for a network to break even let alone make money.
Fox Soccer Channel already owns the U.S. rights to the very costly Premier League and Champions League. If and when Fox acquires Setanta, Fox will pick up rights to other leagues and cups it currently doesn’t have such as the Carling Cup, Coca-Cola Championship (which Setanta currently shares with ESPN 360), Lique Un, Russian Premier League, Scottish Premier League, MUTV, Chelsea TV and other tournaments as well as additional sports such as rugby and gaelic football.
However, the million dollar question is what Fox will do with Setanta and these rights. My gut tells me that Fox will acquire Setanta Sports for the rights only and will shut down Setanta. The rights it acquires can then be sub-licensed to ESPN, DirecTV, GolTV and Versus. But there’s little guarantee that all of the rights will be picked up by the other broadcasters. Plus if Fox decides to keep some of them, there isn’t much available time on its network to show these games especially during an already very congested schedule.
So the net net for soccer fans is that it looks very likely that we’ll see the amount of soccer coverage in this country decline if and when Setanta gets gobbled up by Fox. Of course, I could be totally wrong with this but I don’t foresee Fox Soccer Channel expanding its programming by using the Setanta Sports and Setanta Xtra channels.
It could be terrible news for soccer fans, but it’ll be even worse news for followers of rugby and gaelic sports. Still, until the deal is signed and Fox shares their vision of what they plan on doing, I’ll remain hopeful that there’s a way to salvage the empire that Setanta built and to provide its programming to soccer fans throughout this great country of ours.