Telco adds to sports rights
LONDONESPN has sold its U.K. and Ireland TV channels business to telecom giant British Telecom in a deal understood to be worth in the “low-to-mid tens of millions” of dollars. BT will continue to air at least one ESPN-branded channel after the deal’s expected completion date of July 31, when it is planning to bow a high-profile sports service based on Premier League soccer rights. ESPN Classic, which is not part of the BT deal, is expected to cease broadcasting across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. BT’s decision to buy the Disney-owned sports operation is not unexpected. Several weeks ago ESPN signaled its desire to quit the U.K. once its rights to Premier League soccer expire at the end of the season in May. ESPN also lost several other big sports rights deals in Blighty. BT has paid a hefty £738 million ($1.11 billion) for 46 Premier League games for the next three seasons starting in August. By buying ESPN, BT will now have other key rights to add to its upcoming sports channel, including live Football Assn. Cup soccer games and soccer’s UEFA Europa League and German Bundesliga. The deal also gives BT access to U.S. sports broadcasts including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and Nascar. All 97 ESPN U.K. and Ireland staffers are believed to have been offered the chance to transfer to BT Sport.