EXCLUSIVE: Sport 1 snatches ESPN America rights

German commercial sports broadcaster Sport1, owned by Constantin Media, has acquired the rights to the content currently carried on the ESPN America channel for the territories of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The three territories are thought to account for over one third of the value of ESPN America, the North American sports channel which is syndicated across Europe by the Disney-owned sports broadcaster.

ESPN announced earlier this year that it would close ESPN America and its archive channel ESPN Classic on July 31. Sport1’s coverage will begin on August 1.

The most important rights included in the deal are those to NCAA college sport. The deal with ESPN does not give Sport1 the rights to ice hockey’s NHL, American football’s NFL or baseball’s MLB. The rights to each reverted to the rights-holders once ESPN decided to close its European operation. Sport1 will have to agree separate deals with the Advisers Media International agency for the NHL, and directly with the two other leagues, if it wants the content.

It is now likely that ESPN will look to sell its remaining European content on a market-by-market basis.

There have been unconfirmed reports in the Italian media that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports, which will launch a premium sports channel in Italy in August, is targeting some of the content.

Premium sports channel operator Setanta and Liberty Global’s channel operation Chellomedia are thought to have bid for the rights on a pan-European basis. Pan-European sports broadcaster is thought to have also expressed an interest.