Setanta Sports marks 10th birthday

Subscription offers help, but a good year for Manchester United would also be welcome

Setanta Sports is celebrating its 10th anniversary today, two days ahead of the start of the new English Premier League season, and like most Premier League teams it has gone through highs and lows over that time.

The broadcaster, now owned by entrepreneur Michael O'Rourke, is entering the second year of its three-year deal to distribute the BT Sport channels in the Republic and extending that arrangement beyond 2016 will be of high importance to the Dublin company, says marketing operations director Brian Quinn.

BT currently has exclusive rights to 38 Premier League games per season, including 18 of the “top pick” matches, while Setanta Sports’s own three-year rights to 33 games gives its subscribers access to 71 matches in total.

While the company won’t reveal numbers, Quinn says the uplift in subscribers this time last year was “immense”, adding that in percentage terms it was more than 50 per cent. Broadcasting the “top picks” via BT Sport makes a difference, he says, citing last season’s Arsenal-Liverpool fixture. “That’s a calibre of game that we just wouldn’t have had before.”


This Saturday, BT Sport will broadcast the first match of the season, Manchester United versus Swansea, a game notable for being the Premier League debut of new United manager Louis van Gaal, about whom there has been a pleasing amount of hype.

So would Setanta have attracted more subscribers to its package of five channels last year had United’s season not collapsed?

“Most businesses have certain environmental factors that they can’t control,” says Quinn.

“The only thing I would change about last season, and I say this as a Liverpool fan, is that I would have liked to see Manchester United, not Manchester City, neck and neck with Liverpool at the end of the season.”

Last week, Setanta invited retired footballers and BT Sport pundits David Ginola and David James to Dublin to promote its sign-up offer of €1 for the first month of the subscription. "I have never seen so many women swoon," says Quinn of the reaction to Ginola. The Frenchman taught a few Irish sports journalists how to take penalties, with ex-England goalkeeper James showing them how to save them, he says.

In a few weeks, once the football season is under way, Quinn will be kicking off the "messaging" for BT Sport's rugby rights – the channel will be showing 35 games in the European Rugby Champions' Cup, the tournament that replaces the Heineken Cup, from October, and its coverage will feature Brian O'Driscoll as a pundit. "There will be an extra incentive for Irish people to watch and it just helps from a marketing perspective."

Setanta has “a good relationship with BT”, he says, and “we would like that relationship to continue”. What happens to the Irish rights for the UEFA Champions’ League from the 2015-2016 season onwards will prove an interesting pointer to the future. In the meantime a cake in the shape of a football jersey is set to be divvied up at its Dublin base.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics