11.30 Update: ESPN is to maintain its ESPN America channel as a separate brand after a sports rights shopping spree that has enabled the Disney-owned broadcaster to quickly build its new UK service. From Today (August 3), two premium channels will be offered to UK subscribers. It had previously been thought that the ESPN America brand would become part of a broad-based sports channel for the UK market.
A spokesman for ESPN told Broadband TV News that with six weeks to launch the new channel, branded ESPN, it was necessary to prioritise human resources. “With all the new local and European football, and the broad portfolio of non-US sports rights that we have been able to acquire in the last six weeks, we have enough compelling content to broadcast two strong live sports channels in the UK.”
The swift footwork means UK viewers will be able to enjoy a total of four ESPN channels. Sky and Virgin Media will offer ESPN America at no extra cost to ESPN subscribers. ESPN Classic will remain available in basic. The HD version of ESPN will now also launch in line with its sister channel.
The revised line-up for Sky Digital viewers, which went live shortly after 10.00 is, ESPN 417, ESPN Classic 429, ESPN America 430 and ESPN HD 442.
ESPN has secured the rights to 46 Premier League matches in the 2009/10 season. It also has the rights to 30 Scottish Premier League games and European club football that includes the German Bundesliga, Portuguese Liga and Dutch Eredivisie, Russian League and the Italian Super Coppa.
Outside of football, the two ESPN channels will have coverage of UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship; French Rugby; Australian Rules Football (AFL); FIBA – European Basketball Championship and US sport including NHL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and NCAA College Football and Basketball.