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ESPN will not break the bank for English Premier League rights, says Hair

Ross Hair, the managing director of ESPN in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the international sports broadcaster would not be overly aggressive in its bidding for the next cycle of UK rights for football’s English Premier League.

“If there are other people who want to pay money that we consider doesn’t provide us good value then we won’t do it. We won’t be doing anything that doesn’t make our business sustainable,” he said in an interview with UK newspaper the Evening Standard.

The domestic rights for the Premier League in the three seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16 are due on the market in the first half of this year. ESPN shows 23 live Premier League matches per season in the current cycle, from 2010-11 to 2012-13.

Hair said ESPN had learned a lesson from pay-television broadcaster Setanta, whose UK business collapsed in June 2009 allowing ESPN to acquire the Premier League rights that Setanta had to drop. “Setanta said, ‘We’ll compete toe to toe with Sky on all rights,’ and that led to significant inflation in the market,” he said. “We’re very competitive with Sky on content but on distribution we collaborate and they sell subscriptions to ESPN.”

Hair said that a bid by Qatari pay-television operator Al Jazeera for Premier League domestic rights in the next auction was a “realistic prospect”. Al Jazeera, which has outbid market-leading French pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus for a number of top football rights ahead of launching two new channels in France this summer, has not ruled out a move into the UK market.