Will ESPN sport ailing Sentanta?

International sports operator faces financial crisis

LONDON — The CEO of Blighty paybox BSkyB has predicted that a broadcaster such as ESPN will take over cash-strapped Setanta if, as expected, the international sports operator goes into administration, the U.K. version of Chapter 11.

Jeremy Darroch claimed that despite Setanta’s financial difficulties, the U.K. remains an attractive market for sports webs and added that BSkyB would not like to see Setanta disappear.

“Quite the opposite — a rising tide lifts all boats,” Darroch said at a sports industry breakfast Tuesday in London. “The more sports broadcasters there are, the better for sport. It is competition, and we welcome it.”

There have been rumors that ESPN may buy the stricken Irish paybox for a nominal sum or bid for its English Premier League soccer rights. In the U.K., Setanta carries one of ESPN’s channels.

An ESPN spokesman said, “We have a good relationship with Setanta Sports around the world, including the U.K., where they are clients of ESPN America.” But he wouldn’t comment on the speculation or on ESPN’s investment strategy.

ESPN, which has been expanding in Europe, failed in its bid for a package of Premier League soccer rights in February.

Darroch said Setanta had demanded £50 million ($81.3 million) for its Premier League rights to 46 games next season but BSkyB had rejected the approach.

“We have been talking to Setanta, and trying to work with them and help them,” Darroch added. “We are not a bank, we are a broadcaster, not a supplier of working capital to a business and rights holder … our job is not to fund other companies.”

Unless it can negotiate a last-minute deal, Setanta, financed by private equity coin and investment bank Goldman Sachs, is likely to go into administration before the end of the week.