BSkyB’s East may change direction

Irish sports web looks to Sky for new managing director

LONDON — BSkyB, the Murdoch-backed U.K. satcaster, is facing competitive pressure from Irish sports pay box Setanta Sports, which is contemplating poaching Sky Sports deputy managing director Trevor East.

East is one of the main architects of Sky’s successful sports strategy which has driven its business since it secured exclusive rights to Premier League English soccer matches more than a decade ago.

Setanta, which this week bought control of North American Sports Network, is believed to want East to spearhead its acquisition of sports rights.

East’s contract with BSkyB expires shortly, and it is not yet clear if he will accept the overtures from the Irish upstart web.

If he decides to ankle BSkyB, his departure would be a blow to the satcaster, now facing a number of big challenges as it seeks to refocus its business under the leadership of James Murdoch.

BSkyB, which has revolutionized TV sports coverage in the U.K., has managed to retain exclusive live TV rights to Premier League soccer since 1992.

Its current contract with the league is worth $1.8 billion, but under pressure from the European Commission BSkyB it is set to lose exclusive live rights when the next contract is drawn up in 2006.

Setanta, available on BSkyB and U.K. cable networks, is planning to launch a European sports web in the U.S. It already operates in Oz and has a closed circuit service in the U.S.

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