ESPN looking for further UK TV sports rights

LONDON Tue Jun 23, 2009 2:42pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) sports TV network ESPN is looking to acquire further British sports rights and will consider Scottish soccer after its recent success with the English Premier League, an ESPN executive told Reuters.

ESPN on Monday won the right to show 46 live English Premier League soccer matches for the 2009/10 season and 23 matches for the following three years in Britain in a hastily-arranged auction.

The rights were put up for sale after their previous owner, privately owned Setanta, failed to make a contractual payment. Setanta went into administration on Tuesday and many of its other rights, including those of Scottish games, will also come up for sale.

"We always look at things when they come up," executive vice president and managing director of ESPN International Russell Wolff told Reuters.

"If they make good business sense, we go after them; we certainly are looking at other things at the moment, but we're not committed at the moment and have nothing yet to add."

Asked about the impending auction for Scottish rights, Wolff said ESPN would take a look.

Speaking in a phone interview, Wolff said the group was also in talks with other British television platforms about distributing its rights as widely as possible.

It already has an agreement in place with dominant pay-TV firm British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC (BSY.L), or BSkyB, and is expected to strike similar deals with cable operator Virgin Media Inc VMED.O and others.

Wolff said ESPN would not look at directly retailing its channels to customers, like Setanta had done, but would instead sell them via TV platforms.

It already has two channels on pay-TV in Britain and Wolff declined to say whether it would launch a third.

He told Reuters that the group would, however, need to hire more staff and said he was confident the network would be ready for the first Premier League fixtures in August.

ESPN has previously worked with the English Premier League in selling the rights in Asia and Brazil and Wolff said the two sides have a good working relationship.

"We have a lot to get done in a short period of time, but we're pretty good at this," he said. "We've done it before.

"We've launched networks on short notice before; we've added content to existing networks on short notice before; so whatever we do here, we're fairly confident we'll be ready."

(Editing by Greg Mahlich and Gerald E. McCormick)

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