After making a splash in the UK televised sports market, ESPN is now making a quiet exit. Bristol launched an ESPN channel in the UK just three and a half years ago but have now decided to sell their channels in the UK and Ireland to British telecom giant BT Group. Earlier this month, ESPN's CFO said the company was experiencing losses in the UK market and "exploring an exit." The BT takeover pegged in the low tens of millions has provided just that. Bristol announced details of the agreement early Monday, which includes at least one remaining ESPN branded channel as part of BT's sports package:
"BT Group and ESPN announced today that they have agreed that BT will acquire ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business. These primarily comprise the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga.
The transaction is expected to complete on July 31, 2013 after which BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel which is expected to form part of the BT Sport TV package that will be launched by BT this summer. Additionally, the deal will allow BT to continue to show a host of US sports currently shown on ESPN America, including NCAA College Basketball, NCAA College Football and NASCAR.
ESPN will continue to own and operate its existing digital media businesses which include multisport news and information portal ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo (cricket), ESPNFC (football), ESPNscrum (rugby), ESPNF1 (Formula 1) and broadband streaming service ESPN Player. ESPN Classic has been excluded from the proposed transaction."
ESPN's exit from the UK comes down to one thing - missing out on the latest round of EPL rights across the pond after airing games since ESPN UK's inception. As far as the greater UK media perspective goes, the ESPN acquisition is another throw down the gauntlet from BT to BSkyB as BT can build on their portfolio with the FA Cup, SPL, and more. Importantly though, ESPN's substantial network of online sites focusing on worldwide sports from ESPNFC to ESPNF1 will remain in tact.
Also as part of the BT announcement, ESPN is "proposing the wind down of ESPN Classic throughout the EMEA region and the non-UK ESPN America TV businesses." And that's significant because it would be a sad day if ESPN viewers around the world could no longer see Cheap Seats.