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Setanta loses bid to keep soccer

Premier League terminates deal with TV operator

LONDON — The Premier League, which reps England’s top soccer clubs, has terminated its deal with pay TV operator Setanta, a move that is likely to tip the company into administration, the U.K. version of Chapter 11.

Setanta failed to meet a deadline set by the league to pay £10 million ($16.5 million) on a debt of $49.4 million by the end of business Friday.

The league will now auction the package of live TV rights held by Setanta, covering 46 matches for the 2009-2010 season, to the highest bidder.

Rival satcaster BSkyB will be able to bid for 23 games, but the rest must go to another company under European competition rules. Disney-owned ESPN is a front-runner to take those games.

A rescue deal being negotiated by Setanta with Russian-American billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, in which his Access Industries would pay $32.9 million for a 51% stake in the TV company, failed to materialize in time to save the soccer rights, which are generally believed to be crucial to the company’s survival.

In a statement, Access said: “Regrettably, despite intensive efforts on all sides over the past few days, and despite significant progress in a number of areas, there remain a number of issues which we have been unable to resolve within the time available.”

One of the stumbling blocks is thought to have been up to $82.5 million that Setanta reportedly owes the U.K. tax authorities.

Setanta owns rights to Scottish soccer matches and the PGA golf tour as well as cricket and rugby union deals. But without the English Premier League soccer, it is unlikely to hold onto most of its subscribers.

It has 1.2 million subscribers, 700,000 short of the 1.9 million that industry analysts believe the company needs to break even.

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