Disney's Jay Rasulo says ESPN had 'experienced losses' and was 'exploring an exit' after losing out on big broadcast deals
Disney is "exploring an exit" from the UK TV sport market after ESPN lost several big broadcast deals including live Premier League football.
ESPN, Disney-owned and the largest sports broadcaster in the US, was all but unknown in the UK until its launch three years ago on the back of a deal to screen 46 live Premier League games a year.
But the channel's threat to BSkyB's dominance proved short-lived after it was outbid for the latest Premier League rights by BT. ESPN's current Premier League contract expires at the end of this season.
ESPN has also lost other key sports contracts in the UK including Serie A, Ligue 1, Major League Soccer games from the US and Premiership Rugby.
Just last year the sports broadcaster was bullishly looking to ramp up its UK presence.
But Jay Rasulo, Disney's chief financial officer, said following publication of the US media and entertainment giant's first quarter earnings on Tuesday that ESPN had "experienced losses" in the UK because of more expensive sports rights and was "exploring an exit".
The cost of live Premier League games grew 70% in the latest round of rights deals with BSkyB and BT paying more than £3bn between them.
A spokesman for ESPN UK said: "We have been saying for some time that we are exploring a range of potential options for our business. We are not going to discuss specifics."
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, ESPN is exploring options including the potential sale of some of its UK operations.
However, it is thought that any restructure will ultimately result in some form of continued presence for the US sports brand on UK television.
ESPN runs three TV channels – the flagship ESPN UK-only channel, which broadcast live Premier League games, and ESPN Americas and ESPN Classic – which are aired in 35 countries across the European region and beyond.
It also has a digital business comprising six websites including rugby site espn.scrum.co.uk and cricket specialist, espn.cricinfo.com.
ESPN also runs a syndication business from the UK which sells rights to events such as the X Games and Indy Car racing to other broadcasters.
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