US sportscaster ESPN (NYSE: DIS) has achieved its long-standing ambition of establishing a major foothold in the UK and Europe by winning the rights to broadcast 46 live English Premier League rights next season and 23 games for three seasons starting in 2010/11. That’s all the rights in collapsing Setanta’s hastily arrange auction, leaving BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) without the one remaining package it was able to win under European competition rules.
ESPN currently has a comparatively minor footprint in the UK, with sites like ESPNCricInfo, ESPNScrum.com and cable channels including ESPN Classic and ESPN America (the former NASN), but we reckon adverts for a new ESPN cable/satellite channel will emerge very soon (ESPN is already taking pre-registrations for a brand-new ESPN.co.uk)).
The BBC is reporting that ESPN and Sky have already “reached an agreement for its coverage to be retailed by Sky to residential and commercial customers“. ESPN is “in talks” with Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) while there’s no answer from BT (NYSE: BT) on whether its BT Vision IPTV service could play a role.
— How much? No word on how much the Disney-owned broadcaster stumped up for the rights but, after Setanta’s near collapse, the leagues are accepting lower amounts to secure funding. In 2006, Setanta paid £396 million for 46 live games over two years and, even given price rises, it’s a fair bet ESPN paid less than that. ESPN’s own Soccernet site quotes ESPN EVP and MD Russell Wolff declaring how pleased the company is to have “one of the world’s most sought after sports properties“. He also diplomatically avoids any reference to “soccer” (as opposed to “football”) so to not annoy tribalistic English fans.
— How about online? Is this the shake-up in online sports broadcasting some of us have been calling for? In short, no. ESPN shows all manner of college and professional sports (both live and on demand) via pay-per-view on ESPN360.com in the US — but the Premier League rights are for linear TV only, regardless of platform, allowing the possibility of online pay-monthly packages. ESPN could simulcast them online as Sky does through its subscription-only desktop streaming Sky Player, but so far EPL rights haven’t allowed live matches to be sold on a PPV basis. ESPN is free to bid for the separate online VOD highlights rights if it wants — but it will be up against Sky, BT and Virgin Media among others.
— Spanish rights As if that wasn’t enough European football rights, ESPN has also won the US TV rights to show La Liga, Spain’s starry top flight competition now featuring Ronaldo, Kaka and the rest, as AP reports. ESPN will share the rights with GoITV (LSE: ITV), which has broadcast the competition for six years, and matches will be shown on ESPN2 and ESPNDepotes.