The two pan-European sports channels, Eurosport and the European Sports Network (TESN), have agreed to merge after years of bitter rivalry. U.S. sports cabler ESPN will be part of the new channel’s ownership structure.

The new channel, which will be formed in the next few weeks, will broadcast under the name Eurosport, and be run mainly by existing Eurosport staff from their current Paris offices. It will reach almost 40 million homes across Europe.

There will be a complex, three-tier ownership structure, involving ESPN and three major French companies–Canal Plus, Generale d’Images and TF1–along with the group of 17 national broadcasters that supply Eurosport with much of its programming.

The main new Eurosport broadcasting company, dubbed Eurosport Sales Organization, will be owned 34% by TF1, 33% by Canal Plus and 33% by ESPN.

In France, where the pan-European service will be supplemented by 700 hours a year of French sports programming, there will be a local affiliate company, dubbed TV Sport. Canal Plus will own 34%, TF1 31%, Generale d’Images 25% and ESPN 10%.

Additionally, the old Eurosport Consortium, comprising 17 members of the pubcasters’ organization, the European Broadcasting Union, will continue to own 50% of the Eurosport production company, with the other 50% held by the new ESO.

ESPN currently owns half of TESN, with Canal Plus and Generale d’Images holding 25% each. Eurosport is mainly owned by TF1 and its leading shareholder Bouygues, with a small stake held by the bank Credit Lyonnais.

The merger means that ESPN and TF1/Bouygues have accepted the dilution of their shareholdings, while Canal Plus appears actually to have increased its stake, absorbing the holdings of Generale d’Images, which itself is a shareholder in Canal Plus.

Eurosport’s U.K. rep, Jonathan Wootliff, commented, “ESPN now has 33% of something that can make money, which is better than having 50% of something with no chance of making money.”

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