Summary:

First it ate in to Sky’s Premier League lockdown by winning a chunk of live linear rights. Now it’s taken from Sky the mobile highlights rig…

First it ate in to Sky’s Premier League lockdown by winning a chunk of live linear rights. Now it’s taken from Sky the mobile highlights rights to all 380 of England’s top-tier soccer matches, beginning from the 2010/11 season’s start, this coming August.

ESPN (NYSE: DIS), as a content maker, has no significant UK mobile presence, so will likely need to deliver the videos through a carrier partner. “A good offering with a strong partner is important to us both in terms of accessibility and complementing live coverage,” says ESPN’s EMEA SVP Lynne Frank Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore, in the announcement.

We would expect Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) to be a candidate – it already carries ESPN’s TV channels on its cable platform, carries Perform Group’s other online sports rights on its website and is keen to make good on its “three-screen” entertainment promise by adding more content toa recently-acquired Disney mobile package. But ESPN could conceivably sell the package in to mobile TV offerings carried by all the UK networks.

The rights win boosts ESPN, whose more prestigious, live package slims from 46 to 23 games next season.

ESPN says it will “deliver in-match, post-match and customised highlights, including goals” using the rights. Three and, later, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), held the rights prior to BSkyB (NYSE: BSY). The Premier League would not confirm identities of other bidders, if there were any.

Online, U.S. sports are available to European ESPN viewers via ESPN Player, but the broadcaster is not yet in a position to offer a comprehensive European on-demand offering.

It is hard to see where and how ESPN will look to make money from these rights. The current service – Football 24/7 – has failed to deliver any traction for the mobile operators over the last three years. Sky still has the live mobile rights and, currently, the rights revert back to the clubs 12 hours after the final whistle. So, ESPN has effectively just bought itself in game clips and a 12 hour window from after the games finish to when that deadline hits.

Update: InfoMedia Services, which provides mobile services to five Premier League clubs, writes to say: “Putting together a compelling package that people will pay for is going to be a tall order as it will get squeezed by Sky and the club’s own mobile services.

“It maybe that this package forms a nice little addition to the existing ESPN TV subscription and, as such, drives subscriber numbers for their broadcast rights, but you really do have to ask where ESPN sees this fitting into the current UK mobile marketplace.”

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