ESPN set for “aggressive” approach to Premier League tender

Pay-television broadcaster ESPN will bid “aggressively” in the forthcoming domestic rights auction for English Premier League football as it aims to strengthen its position in the UK market, according to Ross Hair, the company’s managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The Premier League is expected imminently to launch a tender for its broadcast rights for three seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and Hair said that ESPN wanted to expand its portfolio, which currently includes 23 games live per year on its UK channel.

He told the Guardian newspaper: “The next time around, is 23 games enough for us? I think we would like to see more games as an outcome. And within that greater number of games we’d also like to see the ability to make some better picks and grow the quality of the matches. Those are the two things I’m looking to achieve. It’s a pivotal moment for us.”

Hair added: “Looking back over previous auctions, there has always been a high level of competition for these rights. I don’t think this time will be any different. I think we will see other people coming in. We will bid aggressively and we will bid to a degree that is consistent with growing our business in the UK.”

The Premier League’s lengthy court battle Premier League with Karen Murphy, the pub land lady who showed Premier League matches in her pub using a Greek pay-television service, has thrown open the possibility of major reform in its approach to marketing its European rights.

However, Hair dismissed speculation that the league may adopt a pan-European rights model in the upcoming auction and said that the league was more likely to reduce the number of games available to foreign broadcasters in a bid to deter UK consumers from accessing action from non-UK rights-holders. European broadcasters can currently offer 380 live games per season, compared to 138 per season in the UK.

The Premier League’s current three-year deals are worth a total of around £3.5 billion (€4.3 billion/$5.6 billion) – £2.1 billion of which is generated through domestic rights and the remainder from overseas deals.