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ESPN Wants Premier League TV Rights

ESPN is interested in bidding for the TV rights to the Premier League according to a senior executive interviewed by The Financial Times.

The rights in question are the much coveted UK TV rights only. The American broadcaster is considering bidding for the rights in 2009, which will likely mean that the TV rights fees will spiral yet again due to increased competition allowing the Premier League (and the 20 clubs) to pocket more massive sums of money. ESPN would be competing for the rights against the incumbent Sky Sports and Setanta Sports.

ESPN is in the process of launching their network in Europe after recently purchasing NASN (North American Sports Network) from Setanta. The American broadcaster will be rebranding NASN as ESPN in the near future. Adding the Premier League to the network after 2009 would be a massive coup.

The news about ESPN’s interest in the Premier League TV rights makes absolute sense if the network wants to be as successful in Europe as it has been in the United States. Despite ESPN’s interest in the UK TV rights for the Premier League, no mention has been made of their interest in bidding for the US TV rights for the league. But if ESPN is able to acquire the UK TV rights — and they would be in for a massive battle against Sky Sports especially — this may convince ESPN that the US TV rights would be beneficial too.

Today’s news from ESPN will increase speculation that the broadcaster may be interested in acquiring Setanta Sports, which will give automatically the American broadcaster an entryway into having some Premier League TV rights in the UK and US.

Fox Soccer Channel, meanwhile, should watch the news closely as they may not be able to compete if ESPN decided to bid for the TV rights in the United States. Imagine how different FSC would be without the Premier League. It’s almost unthinkable and would change the perception of the channel overnight.

What do you think? Do you think having ESPN acquire the UK rights will be a good thing for football fans in the UK? And do you see ESPN being interested in acquiring the rights in the US at all?

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  1. The Gaffer

    December 29, 2007 at 4:28 am


    That’s a great idea for a blog post. I’ll write something up on that topic in the near future. Thanks for the suggestion.

    The Gaffer

  2. Jason

    December 27, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Not really the post for this comment/question, but maybe close enough: would you consider blogging a bit about the current state of options for viewing UEFA, Premier League, etc games in the states? I am paying $15 a month for Setanta online, which is almost enough. Am thinking about FSC, but am unlikely to convince the wife to pay $ for one channel… What options are out there? Would appreciate it if you could review them in one of your posts? Thanks

  3. Anonymous

    December 11, 2007 at 10:16 am

    GOL TV is using the Bundesliga as filer. Their audience is primarily Latin and they could always replace it with more South American oriented programming. However, losing LaLiga would be the death of the network. Interesting thoughts.

  4. Charlie

    December 10, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    The Gaffer wrote:
    Fox Soccer Channel, meanwhile, should watch the news closely as they may not be able to compete if ESPN decided to bid for the TV rights in the United States. Imagine how different FSC would be without the Premier League. It’s almost unthinkable and would change the perception of the channel overnight.

    To further expand The Gaffer’s hypothesis… Imagine how different GolTV might be if FSC were to raid it (again), this time for La Liga or Bundesliga to replace Premier League programming.

    Or could NewsCorp even just say, “Screw it!” and pull the plug on FSC? That’d be one way to get Stupor Sunday Plus off the air I suppose…

  5. olivert

    December 10, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    After thinking about the FT article and talking to a few other observers, I think I have figured out why George Bodenheimer spoke to the FT reporter:

    ESPN, Inc. is applying the “bear hug” on Setanta Sports Ltd.

    In my opinion, ESPN, Inc. is telling Setanta the following:

    Either ESPN buys out Setanta now so that Setanta doesn’t have to raise more cash in a capital market that has either topped or is about to top, or ESPN will roll over Setanta 1 or 2 years from now, when Setanta will have trouble raising cash to keep itself running.

    I predict that ESPN, Inc. will buy out Setanta within 12-18 months.

  6. eplnfl

    December 10, 2007 at 4:47 pm


    You had to bring up the Kansas-Depaul
    game. Well the answer will be yes.

    A EPL game of the week on ESPN will have bigger ratings then an average NCAA BB game. Duke v. NC no. Also, the EPL game would have to be a big four team or team with a well known name attached to it.

    The time slot is no problem. Either the EPL Monday night game or the early game on Saturday interferes with nothing on the ESPN schedule. US domestic rights on ESPN won’t be that expensive either. THe EPL should want to get their game on, they should almost give it away. Think of the jersey sales in Nashville!

  7. Kartik

    December 10, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    2:00 you cannot be serious?

    First off at the risk of offending some people on this blog I will tell you New England’s tastes in culture, politics and sports are totally unlike the rest of the nation. I wouldn’t base anything nationally on Boston even though the media often times makes this mistake. College Football is a good example. It’s a relatively minor sport in the Northeast but is massive in the rest of the country. So massive that it is the only sport that rivals European Football in England for its ability to not only be well supported but to weave its way into the cultural landscape of the nation. the NFL and NBA may have more viewers than College Football, but the fans aren’t passionate obsessing about the games all year and what recruit each team is bringing in between the seasons. It is truly a cultural phenomena.

    Secondly, basing popular support for sports on jersey sales is just plain dumb. I totally agree with MJ. Jersey sales are limited in College Sports and in fact college sports fans more often than not dress nicely to the games, wearing a polo shirt with let’s say Blue and Gold (For Michigan for example) to the games rather than a jersey.

    Thirdly, ESPN cannot and will not take the weekend rights to the PL or any other Euro league. They just can’t do it. As I’ve said before far more people watch a MAC football game or a mid major college basketball game than the Premier League. That is just reality. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Central Michigan has more TV viewers in this country than Manchester United. Those of us on EPL Talk may not want to believe it but it is true!

    For Lou, since you are a DePaul grad, do you really think ESPN would have had more viewers with let’s say the Liverpool-Reading game Saturday instead of DePaul-Kansas? IMHO their is no way at all they could ever have more viewers for a EPL game than a game involving Kansas or any other school of similar stature.

    I just don’t see any way ESPN shows the EPL here, but as someone said above the highlight package would be a good idea for them.

  8. eplnfl

    December 10, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I can say I told you so. You can reveiw my various posts over the last year. This was the logical move. All I want to say is do not over pay for a league that maybe at it’s zenith in popularity and maybe in a bit of a decline.

    ESPN should not reduce it’s commitment to MLS, that would be a mistake. MLS will be more valuable to it in the long haul, real long haul.

    Also, ESPN obtaining rihgts does not exclude FSC. The NFL rights are shared by various networks and FSC will most likely still show the Lions(pun intended) share of the matches.

    Great news. I know most here will not think so.

  9. MJ

    December 10, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Anonymous at 2 PM, that’s because the Bruins haven’t been any good in recent years and even though Boston College has had some success under Al Skinner, college basketball jerseys don’t sell very well, no matter what school it is.

    Part of this is because you can’t get college merchandise with the player’s name on the back; it’s illegal under NCAA rules.

    I will guarantee you that college basketball is more popular than soccer in this country, I don’t care what league or country you’re talking about, that’s just a fact.

    Since you’re in Boston, let me ask you this. I would wager that you see far more people wearing Red Sox hats, jerseys, hoodies (any merchandise) and Patriots gear than you see wearing anything from Man United or Real Madrid, is that right?

  10. Anonymous

    December 10, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Hey 12:58, how do you explain the Premier League being the world’s most expensive to buy TV rights or franchises if you claim College Basketball and Hockey have more interest? I don’t know about your part of the country but up here in Boston I see far more Manchester United or Real Madrid shirts than Hockey or college basketball or even coolege football jerseys. I think you are dead wrong.

  11. ESPN Footy

    December 10, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    The numbers are two fold or more when the events are moved to ABC is what I intended to say near the end.

  12. ESPN Footy

    December 10, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    This fantasy about ESPN wanting the PL rights in the US being pushed by soccer snobs is exactly that- fantasy. ESPN already holds the PL rights in Asia which at this point maybe worth more than the rights in Europe itself, yet no effort has been made to push for the rights here in the US. Why?

    The Premier League averages too few viewers to be taken seriously by ESPN as a weekend draw. In fact ESPN bombed with the PL back in the late 90s and La Liga earlier this decade when trying to expose weekday games to a wider American audience other than the niche soccer fan who’ll buy a tier up on the cable and satellite systems to watch soccer.

    I would be shocked beyond belief if ESPN showed any interest whatsoever in the Premier League for the US market. Consider Saturdays on the network except in the April to August time period are dominated by college sports. Add the NBA playoffs in May which ESPN spent a pretty penny wrestling away the former exclusivity Turner (TNT/TBS) had for cable coverage and you realize no play can ever be made for the PL, La Liga or Serie A. I love the game the bottom line is most Americans could care less and that’s why ESPN dumped the NHL as well. They aren’t into sports that on a weekend garner only a million viewers like the NHL. The European Football leagues will struggle to gain 500,000 viewers when ESPN’s average College Basketball telecast gets somewhere between 1.5 million and 2.25 million viewers and College Football is off the charts going from 5 million to upwards of 8 or 9 million for really big games that fall to cable. That’s not to mention that the numbers for these events (besides NHL in the past which is why ESPN dumped the league) are two fold if not more. The potential for European Soccer is limited.

  13. johnm

    December 10, 2007 at 11:08 am

    I hope ESPN doesn’t get the rights. They could never give it the coverage it deserves. But it is probably inevitable that ESPN will get the rights. It appears that soccer is on the rise while some other sports are going down. It is probably similar to tennis coverage on ESPN. It attracts a upscale viewers and particular advertisers what that target audience. Of course FSC hasn’t been able to capitalize on this opportunity.

  14. MJ

    December 10, 2007 at 8:41 am

    The “senior executive” is none other than the president of ESPN, George Bodenheimer.

  15. bcjohn02

    December 10, 2007 at 8:33 am

    ESPN getting the Premier League rights in the US is simply unthinkable. Does everyone forget that they had them before, and promptly got rid of them because shows they produce in house got them similar ratings, but more advertising money?

    For Setanta it was wise of them to get rid of NASN and ESPN was in need of a tax write off.

    At the end of the day, Sky Sports and Setanta have ended up making a quasi agreement with regards to the FA Cup and England internationals. They also have agreements for Sky to screen selected shows on Setanta’s networks worldwide. Sky realizes that while Setanta is a competitor, they are a necessary evil

    The World Cup gets good ratings in America because it’s marketed as an attraction. You just cannot do that for an entire season of football.

    I would also wonder what ESPN would think if they got the rights again for the price it would have to, and MLS games got higher ratings for their network?

    The one major plus for FSC and Setanta is the fact they make a concerted effort to replay games in a more time friendly slot for weekday games. Doubt ESPN would do that.

    The harsh reality is ESPN getting the Premier League again would take coverage of the game two steps back. What I would like ESPN to do is purchase the rights package so they could at least show the highlights on SportsCenter. They get around it right now by using the ESPN Deportes tag, but not many people give that segment a second (or third) thought.

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