Disney mulls ESPN exit from U.K.

Move follows failure to secure top soccer rights

LONDON — Disney is “exploring an exit” from the British TV sports market after ESPN lost several big broadcast deals including live Premier League soccer.

ESPN, the U.S. sports giant, was planning to beef up its U.K. presence a year ago, but its failure to renew rights for Premier League soccer has led to a change of mind.

A spokesman for ESPN U.K. said: “We have been saying for some time that we are exploring a range of potential options for our business. We are not going to discuss specifics.”

This statement was issued following remarks made Tuesday by Jay Rasulo, Disney’s chief financial officer, who said that ESPN had “experienced losses” in the U.K. because of more expensive sports rights and was “exploring an exit.”

Last September ESPN was outbid by U.K. telco British Telecom and BSkyB for the next three seasons of Premier League soccer kicking off with the 2013-14 season that commences in August.

ESPN’s live rights to 46 games a season ends this May.

The firm is believed to be exploring options including the potential sale of part of its U.K. operations, but some form of continued presence for ESPN on U.K. TV looks likely.

British Telecom forked out a hefty £738 million ($1.15 billion) for rights to 116 Premier League soccer matches.

The telco is preparing to bow a new pay sports channel this summer to highlight its Premier League games.

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