BT has continued its expansion into sports broadcasting, acquiring ESPN'S UK and Ireland TV channels business in a deal understood to be worth in the "low tens of millions".
The telecoms company will continue to broadcast at least one ESPN-branded channel after the deal's expected completion date of 31 July, as part of its BT Sport package. However, ESPN Classic, which is not part of the BT deal, is expected to cease transmission across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The value of the deal has not been disclosed but BT is understood to be paying "low tens of millions" to acquire Disney-owned ESPN's UK and Ireland business. Disney revealed earlier this month that it was "exploring an exit" from the UK TV sport market after ESPN lost several big broadcast rights deals including live Premier League football.
The ESPN operation will be moving from Hammersmith to BT Sport's headquarters in the converted media centre in Stratford's Olympic Park. All 97 ESPN UK and Ireland staff are understood to have been offered the chance to transfer to BT Sport. However, the future of ESPN's presenting team is unclear, as most are understood to have contracts ending in July.
The broadcaster's Premier League coverage is anchored by Ray Stubbs, with Kevin Keegan as the lead analyst and Jon Champion and Chris Waddle commentating. Until the deal is completed, the service provided to existing ESPN subscribers will remain unchanged.
BT made a spectacular entry into UK TV sports rights in June last year with a £738m deal for 46 live Premier League games annually for three years from the start of the 2013-14 season in August. The latest ESPN deal will add rights to live matches from the FA Cup (for the 2013-14 season), Scottish Premier League (until 2017) and Europa League and Bundesliga (until 2015) to BT's sports portfolio.
The deal also gives BT access to US sports broadcast on ESPN America, including college basketball and football, and Nascar.
ESPN will continue to operate UK digital media businesses including ESPN.co.uk, ESPNcricinfo, ESPNFC, ESPNscrum, ESPNF1 and the broadband streaming service ESPN Player. However, like ESPN Classic, ESPN America is expected to cease transmission outside the UK in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.
BT Retail's chief executive of television, Marc Watson, said: "The FA Cup, Scottish Premier League and Europa League rights will allow us to offer customers of BT Sport even more quality live football, including our first games from the Scottish top flight and our first European competition rights. There will also be the best of US sports available courtesy of this deal, which will further broaden the appeal of BT Sport."
ESPN EMEA's managing director, Ross Hair, said: "We could not be more proud of the TV channels built and nurtured by our talented team over the past four years. The value of that hard work is reflected in this deal with BT and the continuation of ESPN on television screens across the UK and Ireland. The same passion, commitment and innovation will be at the heart of how we develop our strong digital media business into the future."
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