Disney scores sports net

NASN owned by Setanta Sports, Benchmark Capital

LONDON — The Walt Disney Co. is in negotiations to buy the fast-growing European sports network NASN, which broadcasts live U.S. sports to several countries across the continent.

Disney reportedly sees NASN’s live coverage of Major League Baseball, basketball, ice hockey, football and college sports as a natural fit with its Euro service ESPN Classics, which broadcasts archive material.

NASN is owned by Irish pay TV outfit Setanta Sports and Benchmark Capital Europe, the venture capital fund that owns 40% of Setanta.

Setanta and Benchmark took over NASN only last year, acquiring the controlling stake from American billionaire Paul Allen. They are looking to cash in their investment in order to concentrate their resources on expanding Setanta’s business in the U.K. and Ireland.

A rep for Setanta and Benchmark refused to confirm the talks with Disney, saying only that there is “a lot of interest” in NASN. But insiders said, “NASN would be a perfect partner for ESPN in Europe.”

NASN recently launched in France, the Nordic countries, Russia and the Baltic states. Its growing popularity in these territories is partly due to the number of Russian and Scandinavian ice hockey players plying their trade in the NHL.

It currently reaches around 7 million homes in continental Europe and another 250,000 in the British Isles.

Setanta is emerging as a challenger to BSkyB’s effective monopoly of the pay TV sports market in Blighty. It owns the rights to Scotland’s soccer league and will expand into English Premier League soccer in 2007 with a three-year deal to screen 46 live matches per season.

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