BT to take over ESPN channels in the UK, Ireland

UK telecommunications company BT has reached a deal to acquire the ESPN and ESPN America pay-television channels in the UK and Ireland.

Subject to regulatory clearance, the transaction is expected to be completed on July 31, 2013, when BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel, which is expected to form part of the BT Sport pay-television package that will be launched by the company in the UK this summer.

Archive sports channel ESPN Classic, which is currently available in the UK and more than 30 other countries across Europe, has not been included in the deal. “Separate from the agreement with BT, ESPN is proposing the wind down of ESPN Classic throughout the EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] region and the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses,” ESPN said.

The Guardian newspaper said that BT has agreed to pay “low tens of millions” to ESPN’s parent company, media conglomerate Disney.

ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses, including the ESPN.co.uk website and ESPNFC, ESPNscrum and ESPNF1, its dedicated football, rugby union and Formula One motor-racing websites. ESPN will also retain control of the ESPN Player broadband streaming service.

As part of the deal, BT will acquire ESPN’s portfolio of football rights in the UK and Ireland market, including the English FA Cup knockout tournament, the Uefa Europa League European club competition and the Scottish Premier League and German Bundesliga top divisions. BT will also continue to show US sports currently broadcast on ESPN America, including US college basketball and American football as well as the Nascar motor-racing series.

BT has already acquired live domestic rights in the UK for the Premier League and Premiership, the top divisions of football and rugby union, respectively, from the start of the 2013-14 season, as well as rights for Women’s Tennis Association Tour events.

“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,” Marc Watson, the chief executive of the BT Retail division, said.

Ross Hair, the managing director of ESPN’s EMEA division, added: “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.”