ESPN scores with U.K. soccer deal

Sports net nabs rights to Premier League games

LONDON — U.S. sports channel operator ESPN has broken into the U.K. market for live soccer.

The Disney-owned company paid £250 million ($408 million) for the rights to 46 English Premier League games for the 2009-10 season and 23 matches for the following three seasons in a hastily arranged auction Monday.

The rights became available after the league took them back from cash-strapped pay TV operator Setanta, which failed to make a $163 million payment for them due on Friday.

Setanta had agreed to pay $641 million for three seasons beginning in 2007. But the beleaguered Dublin-based sportscaster was unable to keep up the payments.

ESPN has twice tried, and failed, to acquire rights to Premier League matches — a huge driver of pay TV sports worldwide.

Satcaster BSkyB holds the remaining 92 games for the 2009-10 season and 115 games a season for the next three years.

ESPN will also sell its games to the subscribers of BSkyB, as well as other pay TV platforms, further strengthening BSkyB’s position in the market.

Setanta suffered another setback Monday when the Scottish Premier League also took its rights back after Setanta failed to pay $4.9 million due.

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