ESPN Extends Euro Footprint With English Soccer Rights

ESPN - Barclays' Premier League

It’s been in the chase for some time, but now Disney-owned ESPN (NYSE: DIS) has finally got its hands on lucrative English Premier League soccer TV rights for the next four years. The broadcaster has long wanted to extend its footprint in the UK and Europe — and it was handed the perfect opportunity when Irish broadcaster Setanta, which extended itself on the rights bids, defaulted on payments to the league. The company will show the games on a subscription basis when the new season starts in August and is already inviting fans to pre-register interest via its new ESPN.co.uk site. The amount paid wasn’t disclosed, but it’s safe to assume it’s well into the hundreds of millions of dollars bracket.

ESPN has Europe and Asia focussed sites such as ESPNrugby.com, ESPNCricket and ESPNSoccer.com, but this is a significant — and costly — springboard to develop a UK customer base. And it’s a warning shot to BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) (majority shareholder: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.) which until recently enjoyed a monopoly of English football rights but now has Disney on its doorstep openly declaring war on its prized assets.

It doesn’t mean UK consumers will get many new online live or VOD services such as ESPN360 however: these rights allow cross-platform linear coverage only. Broadcasters can show games online simultaneously as part of a subscription package.

Separately, ESPN has also won the rights to show games from La Liga, Spain’s top football league, in a sharing deal with GOITV (LSE: ITV) as AP reports. ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN360 will all show games, some of which will now feature two of the game’s biggest stars, Ronaldo and Kaka, who were both traded to Real Madrid FC.

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