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Setanta Sports: 1990 to 2009?


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.

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    June 21, 2009 at 6:05 am


  2. mi oliver

    June 19, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Stuck in Canada,

    I have Setanta on my digital box but if they bite the bullet, who covers the weekly games? How much does Sky get and how can I get that?


    • The Gaffer

      June 19, 2009 at 2:31 pm

      Setanta Canada may still be OK. Too early to tell right now. Stay tuned to EPL Talk during the next few days/weeks for updates.

      Sky isn’t available in Canada. It may very well turn out to be that Setanta North America continues as-is.

      The Gaffer

  3. michael

    June 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Setanta has been just great for seeing rugby in the USA. If we lose Setanta
    we lose watching rugby which would be a disaster. Fox Sports World had rugby for a while but when it became Fox Soccer Channel all the rugby went away.

  4. pamela lane leeds west yorkshire

    June 18, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    setanta was a life saver for me in the early 90s because one of my regrets in leaving cork city and much that i loved london as it gave me plenty of work, was how will I cope without my hurling and football and the highlight of my week was to go to the irish pubs to see the games.
    even more so, was setanta in the early days were the only source to see irelands qualifing matches for the world cups where else would I have seen iam more broken hearted what will i do now because I look forward to watching the gaelic games in the comfort of my own home.
    please dont go.

  5. jonathan

    June 16, 2009 at 11:08 am

    The UK needs another big player 2 rival Sky. Sky have had it good for 2 long. Sky r actually the people who r killing sports tv. Very expensive. A big player like ESPN will have sky worried as when the next bidding rights come about, there will actually be some competition. Come on ESPN.

  6. DaveMo

    June 10, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    The “Setanta experience” differs so widely on opposite sides of the Atlantic as to be beyond comparison. Here in the USA, Setanta’s share of weekly Premier League games (shared with FSC) has grown year after year. They do get the Monday games, one of the usual two Sunday games, but always more then half of the Saturday matches. Not to have Setanta in addition to FSC here is to miss most of the weekly football. Personally, I hope ESPN buys them out and makes gradual changes in format/branding. I’d hate to see them wait for Setanta to enter administration and cast everything for next season into doubt. Not least because I already pre-paid for a year of

  7. Mike

    June 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Setanta isn’t offered on my cable system; selfishly, I’m hoping ESPN acquires Setanta or the rights to the EPL eventually; I want my football in HD.

  8. PK

    June 8, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Being an American, what drew me to Setanta first was the rugby coverage, which simply doesn’t exist here. I was eating at a Mexican restaurant with a friend and fellow rugby fan while they were playing the Chivas game on Setanta Premium, followed up by England vs. France in rugby. We stuck around and probably doubled their beer sales on the night.

    A few months later I moved into an apartment with a DirecTV dish already set up, and sure enough, there it was. Setanta Sports, ready for purchase. I subscribed, and promptly realized there was far more Premier League football than international rugby, what with my signing up in September. And that was just fine, because I became hooked within weeks. In fact, I became hooked on nearly everything the channel had to offer – AFL, rugby league, Gaelic football, the lot.

    While English folks might find Setanta to be second-rate, in North America it’s an invaluable resource. They bring sports that nobody has ever heard of into your home and give you an alternative to Kobe and LeBron. I’ve been able to get my friends into those sports. To lose Setanta would be to lose a lifeline into things I’ve grown to love over the years; if ESPN does what they usually do and pounce on the rights to everything, the tragedy will be lessened (and probably become far less expensive -$15 a month is still a kick in the teeth), but it’ll be a loss in terms of nostalgia. All those times I woke up in the morning to the blast of the station’s theme song…(“dah-NAH-NAH-NAAAAAAAAAAAH!” followed by me flying off the couch)

  9. Dave G

    June 8, 2009 at 8:28 am

    I remember hearing about Setanta early doors in the 90’s as they beamed Ireland games and also RTE coverage into bars in London.
    I had just arrived in the US in 1990 and it was nearly impossible to get ANY football coverage until Fox Sports World started showing a few Tape Delay games and the highlights show on Thursday nights around 1993
    (anyone remember the great FSW self promo, My WORLD, MY LIFE, MY GAME)
    top notch that!
    Anyway, first real experience with Setanta was when I bought the Euro 2000 PPV package on cable that was from Setanta ($149 for every game or $20 per game) hell of a deal AND they showed the BBC/ITV half time and post match analysis
    Same thing with Euro 2004, again a bargain at $149 for every game
    I am a setanta broadband subscriber and even though they have made some changes and mistakes…$149 a year for the football and gaelic and rugby matches is a hell of a bargain
    My cable doesn’t carry Setanta, but I am thinking of switching to Direct TV just so that I can get Setanta, although i will wait to see if ESPN buys them out first, as I HOPE that if they do, then Disney will push for more available coverage for setanta with cable providers
    I really hope that ESPN buys setanta, I think that it would be the very best thing for football in this country…when i think back to 1990 and the old ListServ computer forums (green screen and text only!) when footy fans from all over the world would post the saturday results for fans like me….I am ALWAYS grateful that I can watch ANY football at all!!

  10. Stephen

    June 8, 2009 at 7:58 am

    The sooner this company goes under the better.

    Anyone in England will testify how bad this broadcaster really is. Their coverage of the football is simply second grade, the pundits are dreadful and they are single handedly killing off interest in watching the national team. No one wants to have to pay extra on top of an already pricey sum given to Sky each month for a product that is simply not worth it. The Premier League games that Setanta get are ones that the majority of people aren’t interested in (Monday night football and Saturday late kick offs), meaning that most people wont part ways with their hard earned cash. Then you have the England internationals. Due to people not taking up their subscription, the viewing figures for the national team are at the lowest in a long long time. You’re far better off, like the thousands of extra people do with every game, just streaming the game online (not that I’m advising this as its illegal).

    You talk of the good days? The good days for English based fans was when terrestrial broadcasters had the rights to the games, therefore opening the game up to huge audiences not even Sky can compete with. If the Premier League were clever and wanted to reach more and more people they must be able to come to some agreement with the terrestrial channels to broadcast it here (I sure wouldnt be fussed about paying my license fee that way). This obviously doesn’t apply to those outside the UK, but trust me, these were the good days.

  11. Seamus Davidson

    June 8, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Patrick, I have Setanta Broadband. I refuse to pay Sky’s inflated package prices, although I should point out I’m a boxing fan and signed up for Setanta purely for the boxing. The service was recently upgraded – very fast and smooth, very impressively set-out. You get all the channels, whereas Freeview subscribers only get Setanta 1 I believe.

    I’ll be absolutely gutted if Setanta suddenly go off air this week – there’s a number of boxing matches and UFC events I was looking forward to, and Sky’s boxing coverage is severely limited compared to Setanta, who modelled themselves as the `home of boxing.`

  12. Patrick

    June 8, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Ahh the good olde days, wheren’t that long ago. I remember trying to see England play Turkey in New York in a Euro 2004 qualifier. First to Nevada Smith’s the line was long, there was 10 foot 500 pound man in front of us in line with a Turkey track top on with 10 other thugish looking characters as we waited only to find out 10 mins before kickoff they where full. I guy was handing out flyers for the Polish meeting hall, who was showing the match. Got lost and tried the Red Lion, that was full. There was talk that a bar on the upper West Side was showing it, we get there after two trains uptown, just as Beckham slips during a free kick and half time. people are pouring out as they want 20 each not ten, knowing that those ariving are overflow from downtown. We go and have a beer breakfast and let England draw and qualify, which we enjoyed reading about that afternoon.

    that was April of 2003. it all changed quick after that.

    I still remember the old real Audio streams in the late 90’s early 00’s. Some where just a guy doing his own commentary off the tube, some where a mic placed to a tv speaker. All where bad quality, but you could hear the game like you where in london.

    BTW I watched the England game this weekend on a stream on my TV. Better picture then the old Dish Network ppv game of the week…

    Does anyone have Setanta Broadband, is it worth it???

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