Standalone channel would target U.K. sports

LONDON — Disney’s ESPN is developing plans to launch a standalone U.K. channel on the back of its successful bid for English Premier League soccer rights.

On Monday ESPN forked over an estimated $408 million for 46 Premier League games of the 2009-10 season and 23 matches of the following season.

ESPN, which nabbed the rights after they returned to the league when cash-strapped Irish paybox Setanta failed to meet a payment schedule, is now considering how best to maximize its ownership of a crown jewel of U.K. sports.

In Blighty the broadcaster runs two channels. They are basic pay service ESPN Classic, which  focuses on English sports events, and ESPN America, a premium offering showcasing U.S. sports such as American football, ice hockey, baseball and basketball.

ESPN is mulling either the launch of a standalone aimed at U.K. soccer fans or alternatively rebranding ESPN America.

The new service would be available on BSkyB, Blighty’s leading paybox, in time for the Premier League soccer season that kicks off in late summer.

Learning from the experience of Setanta, which went into the U.K. equivalent of Chapter 11 on Tuesday, ESPN does not intend to sell subscriptions directly to customers. Instead it will use BSkyB’s proven expertise and infrastructure to market the channel.

In addition ESPN will make the channel available to the other U.K. pay platforms — namely, Virgin Media, Top Up TV and BT Vision.

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