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Setanta scores soccer

Net breaks BSkyB's hold on sports

North American Sports Network operator Setanta has broken BSkyB’s 14-year stranglehold on the lucrative rights to live British soccer by snapping up two of the six Premier League packages for £392 million ($666.4 million).

BSkyB paid $2.42 billion for four packages of 92 games but was expected to win the bidding for five — the most it can buy under European Commission antitrust rules.

Overall the TV rights for three years until 2010 have generated $3.12 billion, up from $2.05 billon.

The Rupert Murdoch-backed satcaster is putting a positive spin on the result, hailing the move as “good news for fans, football and Sky.”

“Sky is the home of football,” said BSkyB sports topper Vic Wakeling. “We will offer first picks, the best matches and biggest head-to-heads.

“There will be more live Premiership football on Sky Sports than ever — 92 games a season, up from 88 games today.”

It remains to be seen what impact the end of BSkyB’s monopoly will have on its standing in the City of London.

Newly merged U.K. cable operator NTL, soon to rebrand as Virgin TV, failed to come away with anything, which is a big blow to its ambitions — and a huge relief to BSkyB.

As for Setanta, winning exclusive rights to 46 live Premier League soccer matches has made the Dublin-based company a serious force in world sports pay TV.

“We are very happy with this, and we are very happy with the price,” said a Setanta insider. “It’s actually also good news for Sky because they’ve still got the lion’s share of matches and they are spending less money.”

Founded in 1992 by joint CEOs Leonard Ryan and Michael O’Rourke, Setanta is also backed by private equity company Benchmark Capital, which bought a 35% chunk in October.

Now the company, valued at north of $120 million, will be well positioned to continue its expansion in Europe and the U.S.

As well as acquiring other rights, management will also launch more channels and continue the rollout of NASN, which is available in Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.

Setanta already has NFL rights in 21 countries, including France and Germany, and NHL rights for TV, broadband and mobile across all of Europe for four years.

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