BT buys ESPN UK after European exit

espn_micBT Group is to acquire ESPN’s UK and Ireland channel businesses for the BT Sport portfolio.

ESPN is also proposing to wind down its ESPN Classic business throughout the EMEA region and its non-UK ESPN America TV businesses.

Ross Hair, managing director, ESPN – Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “We could not be more proud of the TV channels built and nurtured by our talented team over the past four years. The value of that hard work is reflected in this deal with BT and the continuation of ESPN on television screens across the UK and Ireland. The same passion, commitment and innovation will be at the heart of how we develop our strong digital media business into the future.”

Key to the deal is the rights portfolio ESPN has built up around the Premier League rights package it has effectively lost to its suitor from the start of the 2013/14 season. These include the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga.

BT will also pick up the rights to show a host of US sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and NASCAR. The ESPN channels will be broadcast from BT Sport’s new home in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. Until completion, the service for current subscribers to the ESPN channels across all television platforms remains unchanged.

Marc Watson, chief executive of television, BT Retail, said: “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.

The majority of the output will be branded within BT Sport, though one ESPN-branded channel will remain.

When the deal closes on July 31, 2013, the ESPN channels will be broadcast from BT Sport’s new home in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.

ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses which include multisport news and information portal ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo (cricket), ESPNFC (football), ESPNscrum (rugby), ESPNF1 (Formula 1) and broadband streaming service ESPN Player. ESPN Classic has been excluded from the proposed transaction.

ESPN returned to the European market in 2007 with the acquisition of NASN. It later picked up rights from the collapsed Setanta business and launched its own UK premium channel on August 3, 2009.