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BT buys ESPN’s U.K. operations

Telco adds to sports rights

LONDON — U.K. telecom giant British Telecom has acquired ESPN’s U.K. and Ireland TV channels business in a deal understood to be worth in the “low tens of millions” of pounds.

BT will continue to air at least one ESPN-branded channel after the deal’s expected completion date of July 31, when it is planning to bow a new high-profile sports service based on Premier League soccer rights.

But ESPN Classic, which is not part of the BT deal, is expected to cease broadcasting across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

BT’s decision to buy the Disney-owned sports operation is not unexpected as several weeks ago ESPN signaled its desire to quit the U.K. once its current rights to screen Premier League soccer expire at the end of the present season in May.

ESPN also lost several other big sports rights deal in the U.K.

BT has paid a hefty £738 million ($1.11 billion) for 46 Premier League games for the next three seasons starting in August.

By buying ESPN, BT will now have other key rights to add to its upcoming sports channel, including live F.A. Cup games and Uefa Europa League and German Bundesliga.

ESPN’s U.K. and Ireland channels business consists of two services — ESPN and ESPN America.

The deal also gives BT access to U.S. sports broadcasts on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and Nascar.

All 97 ESPN U.K. and Ireland staff are believed to have been offered the chance to transfer to BT Sport.

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