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ESPN mulls U.K. soccer bid

Move would pose challenge to BSkyB

ESPN is sizing up a bid for the U.K. rights to English Premier League soccer.

ESPN prexy George Bodenheim told the Financial Times that the Premier League is a “fabulous property … we are absolutely interested in it.”

Any move in this direction would put the Disney-owned broadcaster in direct competition with U.K. paybox BSkyB.

The British satcaster, controlled by News Corp., last year agreed to a three-year deal worth $2.6 billion for the lion’s share of live soccer rights. Top-flight English soccer is far and away BSkyB’s biggest subscription driver.

The company was furious when the European Union ruled that its exclusive grip on live coverage of Premier League games must end. As a result, Irish-based paybox Setanta bought some of the U.K. rights last year.

The prospect of a bid from ESPN, in the throes of international expansion, will set the alarm bells ringing at BSkyB.

The soccer rights are next due to be auctioned in 2009.

ESPN is about to rebrand itself in Europe by dropping the North American Sports Network branding and replacing it with ESPN.

Bodenheim added: “We’re going to work on getting as local as we can. We want to deliver product that is relevant in each country. It’s a country-by-country approach.”

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