ESPN steers clear of Setanta

Setanta duo race to save company

Disney-owned sports web ESPN has moved to end speculation that it wants to acquire cash-strapped international sports paybox Setanta.

An ESPN spokesman said: “We currently have no plans to buy Setanta. There are a lot of stories out there that link ESPN with a possible purchase. We wanted to set the record straight.” Asked whether ESPN would be interested in acquiring the rights to English Premier League soccer held by Setanta, the spokesman said it was a question for Setanta and the league, to which the rights will default if Setanta misses its payments.

Setanta founders Leonard Ryan and Michael O’Rourke are racing against the clock to try to keep the company afloat. They are thought to have until the weekend to secure a £100 million ($164 million) refinancing package. Alternatively, they may sell the U.S. and Irish businesses, which are believed to be profitable.

But potential buyers are likely to sit tight in the hope of landing sports rights to premium events such as English Premier League soccer at a bargain price. There is speculation that British Telecom, whose digital entertainment service BT Vision carries Setanta’s output, is considering injecting coin into the sports paybox as a way to help it avoid administration, the U.K. equivalent of Chapter 11.

But the severity of the situation was underlined Wednesday when BT Vision cut off access to Setanta for U.K. subscribers.

On the same day, Setanta published a message on its own website that said it was “attempting to secure the future” of the business. “The company has not gone into administration,” it added. “All our channels are still broadcasting across all platforms, and our subscribers can continue to enjoy our programming.”

However, it has temporarily suspended the acceptance of new subscriptions. Customers who pay Setanta by direct debit, credit card and standing order were told not to cancel subscriptions.