BT ramps up sports TV offering with ESPN deal

LONDON Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:23am EST

The British Telecom logo is seen, in central London November 13, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The British Telecom logo is seen, in central London November 13, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - BT has agreed to buy ESPN's UK and Ireland television business as its bids to loosen BSkyB's grip on the pay-TV sports market with the launch of its own channels.

The deal, which includes the ESPN and ESPN America channels, will see BT take on ESPN's live sports rights package in Britain and Ireland, including live soccer matches from the FA Cup, Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League and German Bundesliga.

BT said on Monday it will take over the rights from July 31, 2013 and will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel as part of its BT Sport package, which will launch in the summer.

BT, the former telecoms monopoly, took a leaf out of BSkyB's book in June, winning a share of English Premier League soccer rights from 2013, and then buying exclusive rights to English Premiership rugby starting the same year.

The ESPN deal also gives BT the right to broadcast live sports from the United States currently aired on ESPN America, including American football, college basketball and Nascar motor racing.

BT is seeking to drive subscriptions to its BT Vision pay TV offering through its enhanced sports portfolio just as BSkyB has done to great effect. BT Vision has only around 700,000 customers, while BSkyB has more than 10 million customers.

BT, which will base its new sports channels in the Olympic park in east London, did not reveal the financial terms of the deal.

(Reporting by Rhys Jones; editing by Neil Maidment)

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