News has just emerged that BT Group has acquired ESPN’s TV channels business in the UK and Ireland.
You may remember that BT won the football (soccer) rights for 38 English Premier League games from the start of next season, with ESPN failing to extend its contract. Well, this deal not only means that BT will now own the ESPN brand in the UK and Ireland, but it will also now gain the rights to the English FA Cup for the 2013/14 season at least, the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League until the end of the 2016/17 season, the UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga, both of which will be until the end of the 2014/15 season at least.
“We are delighted to have reached agreement with ESPN for the acquisition of their UK channels business and that we have been able to add some exciting new sports rights to the ones we already have,” says Marc Watson, chief executive of television, BT Retail.
“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,” he continues. “There will also be the best of US sports available courtesy of this deal, which will further broaden the appeal of BT Sport.”
The brand lives on
The ESPN brand won’t be done away with though, as BT will continue to operate “at least one” ESPN-branded channel which will form part of the BT Sport TV package, scheduled for launch this summer.
With ESPN America on board too, this will let BT continue to broadcast a slew of US sports including NCAA College Basketball/Football and NASCAR, and further confirms the telecommunications giant’s intentions in the broadcast media space.
Meanwhile, ESPN will continue to own and operate its other digital businesses such as multisport news and ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo (cricket), ESPNFC (football), ESPNscrum (rugby), ESPNF1 (Formula 1) and broadband streaming service ESPN Player.
Interestingly, ESPN is also looking to wind down its ESPN Classic channel across the EMEA region, as well as the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses.
With BT winning the remaining English Premier League rights from ESPN last summer (BSkyB still has the lion’s share), this did leave many wondering what would become of the channel in the UK and Ireland, given that its remaining sports coverage was not significant enough to tempt subscribers on board by themselves. Indeed, it makes sense from BT’s perspective to not only gain these additional rights from ESPN, but also acquire a brand that is synonymous with sport the world over.
In the UK and Ireland, ESPN and ESPN America is broadcast to around 3.5 million households as things stand, and the BT acquisition is expected to be rubber-stamped by July 31 this year.
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