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BT Group and ESPN announced they have agreed that BT will acquire ESPN's U.K. and Ireland TV channels business. These primarily comprise the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga. The transaction is expected to be complete on July 31 after which BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel which is expected to form part of the BT Sport TV package that will be launched by BT this summer. Additionally, the deal will allow BT to continue to show a host of U.S. sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and NASCAR (ESPN). In London, Ashling O'Connor reported the deal is said to be worth "in the low tens of millions." ESPN's sale of its sports channels to BT is an admission by the Disney-owned U.S. network of "its failure to crack" the U.K. market, where Sky has dominated since the launch of the Premier League in '92. The deal gives BT a "clutch of rights as well as about 85 people with experience in running sports channels" (LONDON TIMES, 2/25).
CLASSIC TO GO DARK: Also in London, Deans & Gibson reported ESPN Classic, which is not part of the BT deal, is "expected to cease transmission across Europe, the Middle East and Africa." The ESPN operation will be moving from Hammersmith to BT Sport's headquarters in the converted media center in Stratford's Olympic Park. All 97 ESPN UK and Ireland staff "are understood to have been offered the chance to transfer to BT Sport." However, the future of ESPN's presenting team "is unclear, as most are understood to have contracts ending in July." The broadcaster's Premier League coverage "is anchored by Ray Stubbs, with Kevin Keegan as the lead analyst and Jon Champion and Chris Waddle commentating" (GUARDIAN, 2/25). REUTERS' Rhys Jones wrote BT is "seeking to drive subscriptions to its BT Vision pay TV offering through its enhanced sports portfolio just as BSkyB has done to great effect." BT Vision "has only around" 700,000 customers, while BSkyB has more than 10 million customers (REUTERS, 2/25). The PA's Martyn Ziegler wrote the news is "another blow for Sky." BT's emergence as a serious challenger to BSkyB for sports rights "has continued." BT TV CEO Marc Watson said, "The FA Cup, Scottish Premier League and Europa League rights will allow us to offer customers of BT Sport even more quality live football, including our first games from the Scottish top flight and our first European competition rights" (PA, 2/25).
German public broadcaster ZDF "obtained satisfying ratings" for its winter sports broadcasts over the weekend, according to Alexander Krei of DWDL. The men's giant slalom race from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Sunday attracted 3.45 million viewers and recorded a 20.7% market share. Following the alpine ski race, a total of 2.88 million viewers tuned in to watch luge from Sochi, Russia. The number equaled a 16.4% market share. In addition, the Nordic Combined event at the Nordic World Ski Championships from Val di Fiemme, Italy was also very popular. A total of 3.18 million viewers tuned in to watch the cross-country ski part of the event, which translated into a 16.6% share. The following ski jumping part attracted 3.66 million viewers and received a 16% share (DWDL, 2/25).
SKY HIGH: DWDL's Krei also reported German pay-TV channel Sky set a new season-rating record for its early Sunday Bundesliga game. The matchup between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund attracted 970,000 viewers, which equaled a 4.8% market share. In the target demographic 14-49, the game recorded a 6.1% share. The game topped the previous record by almost 200,000 viewers. The late Sunday game between Fürth and Leverkusen attracted 600,000 viewers and received a 2.8% share in the target demographic (DWDL, 2/25).
FRANCE: OZAP reported pay-TV channel Canal+'s broadcast of David Beckham's debut with Paris St. Germain against Marseille was watched by 2.8 million subscribers. PSG's 2-0 victory also resulted in a 42% share (OZAP, 2/25).
The French Handball Federation (FFHB) announced pay-TV channel Canal+ has retained the rights to all the men's and women's national team matches for the next four years (FFHB). ... German business news channel DAF "is expanding its cooperation with Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) club Brose Baskets Bamberg and will effective immediately air a weekly magazine show." The show called "Tip-Off - Das Euroleague-Magazin der Brose Basekets" will air Mondays at 6pm German time. In addition, the channel will replay the show on Tuesdays at 6:45pm and Wednesdays at 6:30pm (DWDL, 2/25). ... Pan-European sports channel Eurosport "has acquired the exclusive TV and digital rights to the Algarve-Cup in Portugal for the European region." Eurosport "will show seven games including the final" of the women's int'l football tournament ahead of UEFA Women's Euro 2013, which will take place March 6-13 in Sweden (DWDL, 2/25). ... German weekly "Die Zeit" will cover national and int'l football starting on April 11. The newspaper has hired former "Spiegel" journalist Cathrin Gilbert to head its football section (DWDL, 2/25). ... The Women's FA Cup Final will be shown live on BBC Two on May 26. The final comes before the European Women's Championship, "which will be live across the BBC in July" (BBC, 2/25).