UK’s TV sports markets hots up as BT buys ESPN UK channels

BT has announced that it has agreed to buy ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels as it adds to its live sports coverage.BT will acquire the ESPN and ESPN America channels, and their live rights to show FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, Uefa Europa League, and German Bundesliga matches.

BT has already announced that it will launch its BT Sport TV package in the summer- as a copycat- and opponent to Sky’s broadband and pay per view TV channels.

BT had already secured the rights to show live English Premier League games for the first time from next season.

The UK telecoms firm has been investing heavily in its sports offering, including buying the rights to show live Aviva Premiership rugby union matches and a deal with the WTA to show women’s tennis.

It has taken on some big-name sports presenters including Jake Humphrey, who led the BBC’s Formula One coverage, and Clare Balding who presented horse racing and Olympics coverage for the BBC.

After last year’s auction of Premier League rights, which raised more than £3 billionn, ESPN was left with no rights to show live matches after the 2012-13 season.

The package went for 70% more than the previous one, with BSkyB having to pay £2.28 billion for the rights to 116 games per season from 2013-14 to 2015-16. BT, meanwhile, agreed to pay £736 million for the rights to 38 games per season over the three year period.

The ESPN deal is expected to be completed at the end of July. After that BT said it would continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel as part of its new sports package.

ESPN channels will broadcast from BT Sport’s new facilities at the Olympic Park in Stratford.

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

“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.”

Ross Hair, ESPN’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, 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.”

ESPN only put their sports channels up for sale last week, so BT has moved quickly to buy these content channels to aggressively compete with Sky.