Fox Sports to buy US operation of Setanta


THE OWNERS of Setanta Sports’s pay television business in the United States have agreed to sell the company to Fox Sports International, a company that numbers media magnate Rupert Murdoch as a major shareholder.

Setanta Sports refused to comment on the deal but The Irish Timesunderstands that the sale will close later this week.

The US business is owned by Setanta founders Leonard Ryan and Michael O’Rourke, and Mark O’Meara, a long-serving senior executive with the Irish broadcaster. They rescued this company after Setanta’s main business in Britain collapsed into receivership last year, having failed to make payments to a number of sports bodies, including the Premier League. They also took over Setanta’s businesses in Canada and Australia, which are not affected by this transaction.

This deal does not affect Setanta’s operation in Ireland. Denis Desmond, the major shareholder in Setanta’s Irish business, which was also rescued last year, is not involved with the US company.

It is not clear how much Fox will pay for Setanta Sports USA but its backers were seeking to raise about €15 million in new funding for their international businesses late last year.

Fox and Setanta have co-operated in recent years in securing live sports rights. Fox holds the rights to live Premier League football in England and sub-licensed some of the games to Setanta.

The pair also last year won the US rights to the Champions League from ESPN via a joint bid. They also held the rights to the FA Cup.

Contributors to internet chatrooms in the US last night speculated that Fox had recently revoked its Premier League and Champions League football rights from Setanta Sports North America Ltd, following missed payments by the Irish-based company, and would therefore only pay a nominal sum for the US business.

This could not be confirmed but Setanta’s US website has removed references to coverage of the Premier League and the Champions League. According to its website, Setanta’s US business is available on both cable and satellite in more than 42 million homes in America. It is also available on cable in the Caribbean.

Subscribers pay $14.99 a month for the service, which carries Six Nations and Heineken Cup rugby, GAA matches, club soccer from France and Russia and Manchester United’s MUTV.

The last set of accounts filed for Setanta Sports North America Ltd related to the year ended December 31st, 2006, at which point the company had accumulated losses of $10.6 million. Sources said yesterday that the US arm had not yet reached break-even but that the Canadian business was “making money”.

Since its formation in 1994, Fox Sports International has established itself as a leading sports broadcaster in the US, covering American football, ice hockey, baseball, soccer and a range of major international events.

It operates channels such as Fox Soccer, the Speed Channel and Fox College Sports.