SBD/February 26, 2013/Media

BT Buying ESPN's U.K., Ireland TV Channels To Better Compete With BSkyB

After airing 23 EPL games per year, ESPN will have no U.K. soccer-league rights
BT is "buying ESPN’s sports television channels in the UK and Ireland as part of its challenge to BSkyB in the pay-TV market," according to Ashling O'Connor of the LONDON TIMES. Sources said the deal is worth "in the low tens of millions" of pounds. Sources added that it includes "live rights to the FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, Europa League, Bundesliga and US sports such as" the NFL, college basketball and NASCAR. BT will assume the rights "from July 31 and will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel as part of its BT Sport package." The sale of its sports channels to BT is an "admission" by ESPN of its "failure to crack the UK market, where Sky has dominated since the launch of the Premier League in 1992." It will continue to "run its sports websites in Britain but is considering closing down its ESPN Classic channel in the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions" (LONDON TIMES, 2/26). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Lilly Vitorovich noted BT last year "surprised investors and rivals by securing exclusive U.K. broadcasting rights to 38 live Premier League soccer matches a year" from '13-16 for US$1.11B. ESPN showed 23 live EPL matches annually from '10-12, "but after May 2013 it will no longer have any U.K. soccer-league rights." An ESPN spokesperson said that the net "decided to sell its U.K. and Irish TV channels businesses for several reasons, including the loss of live Premier League soccer matches, BT's move into sports content, intense competition from incumbents in the sports broadcasting space," including BSkyB, ITV and the BBC" (WSJ.com, 2/25). The GUARDIAN's Deans & Gibson report the ESPN operation will be moving to BT Sport's HQs "in the converted media centre in Stratford's Olympic Park." All 97 U.K. and Ireland staff are "understood to have been offered the chance to transfer to BT Sport" (GUARDIAN, 2/26).
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