Setanta Sports is facing renewed uncertainty after the Premier League withdrew the rights to the 46 matches the broadcaster held for the 2009/10 season.
The pay-TV channel failed to meet Friday’s deadline to pay the latest £30 million tranche for the rights ahead of the final year of the current contract. Earlier it emerged that a deal under which Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries would have invested £20m for a 51% stake had fallen through.
In a statement the Premier League said it had been working with Setanta for some time in order for coverage of the 2009/10 season to go ahead as planned. “It is with considerable regret that we announce that Setanta has been unable to meet their obligations. As such the existing licence agreement between us has been terminated with immediate effect.”
Access Industries expressed regret at being unable to proceed with its investment. “Regrettably, despite intensive efforts on all sides over the past few days, and despite significant progress in a number of areas, there remain a number of issues which we have been unable to resolve within the time available,” the company said in a statement. “We are disappointed not to have been able to make this deal happen. Access remains committed to sports programming and will continue to explore opportunities in this area.”
With the start of the new season just weeks away the Premier League has given potential bidders until Monday to submit their offers for the two packages.
BSkyB would be entitled to bid for one of the packages, taking it to the maximum of five allowed under European law. Another bidder is expected to be ESPN, though the Disney-owned sports network has consistently failed to declare its hand, despite intense speculation surrounding its interest. ESPN has two European channels, the free-to-air ESPN Classic and the premium ESPN America, the latter as the name suggests focussing on sports from North America.
Setanta said it would consider its options over the weekend – the broadcaster retains rights to golf, boxing, rugby union, Scottish and lower league football – with a statement expected early next week.