MUMBAI: After exiting the Asian market post its stake sale in sports broadcasting joint venture to Rupert Murdoch?s News Corp, The Walt Disney Company owned sports network ESPN has now shut its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) operations as it seeks to concentrate on its core market, US, where it has to battle an aggressive Fox Sports Network.
ESPN has closed down ESPN Classic throughout the EMEA region and the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses.
Like in Asia, ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses which include multisport news and information portal ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo (cricket), ESPNFC (football), ESPNscrum (rugby), ESPNF1 (Formula 1) and broadband streaming service ESPN Player. ESPN Classic has been excluded from the proposed transaction.
The BT Group, which is launching sports channels in UK in summer, has decided to acquire ESPN?s UK and Ireland TV channels business. These primarily comprise the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga.
ESPN had been mulling for quite some time to exit UK ever since it lost the lucrative English Premier League (EPL) rights to BT last year. The British telecom major had last year bagged EPL rights for ?246 million.
The transaction is expected to complete on 31 July after which BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel which is expected to form part of the BT Sport TV package that will be launched by BT this summer.
Additionally, the deal will allow BT to continue to show a host of US sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and NASCAR. The ESPN channels will be broadcast from BT Sport?s new home in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. Until completion, the service for current subscribers to the ESPN channels across all television platforms remains unchanged.
The deal will enable BT Sport customers to see live coverage of the FA Cup for the 2013/14 season, the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League until the end of the 2016/17 season and the UEFA Europa League and German Bundesliga through to the end of the 2014/15 season.
These join the broadcast rights that BT Sport has previously announced, including 38 live Barclays Premier League matches - including 18 of the top clashes - in each of the next three seasons (beginning August 2013); 69 live Aviva Premiership Rugby matches for the next four seasons; and up to 800 hours per season of live women?s tennis, including the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.
BT Retail chief executive of television Marc Watson said, "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.
"The FA Cup, Scottish Premier League and Europa League rights will allow us to offer customers of BT Sport even more quality live football, including our first games from the Scottish top flight and our first European competition rights. There will also be the best of US sports available courtesy of this deal, which will further broaden the appeal of BT Sport."
ESPN - Europe, Middle East and Africa MD Ross Hair said, "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."