Setanta secures Premier League package for screening here


TROUBLED DUBLIN-BASED broadcaster Setanta Sports got a major boost yesterday by pipping British satellite broadcaster BSkyB for the right to show 33 live English Premier League games in the Republic next season.

No price was revealed by either Setanta or the Premier League, but it is understood that the Irish TV company will pay just over €4 million for the games, which will be broadcast at 3pm on Saturdays.

The rights were won by a company called Setanta Hibernia, registered in Luxembourg.

This contract could help to secure the future of nearly 150 staff left at Setanta’s Irish business. An announcement on a change of ownership in Setanta’s Irish business is expected in the next couple of days.

It is understood that founders Michael O’Rourke and Leonard Ryan, concert promoter Denis Desmond – who owned 20 per cent of the Irish business – and former executive Mark O’Meara have agreed a deal to take control of the business here.

Setanta previously held the rights but lost them when parts of the group recently ceased operating when the broadcaster ran into financial difficulties.

Its UK operation is currently being wound down.

Setanta’s Irish business has also retained the rights to Magners League rugby, Uefa Champions League, Formula One and the British Open in golf.

Commenting on the rights win, Niall Cogley, Setanta Sports Ireland’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted to announce our success in winning back Saturday afternoon Premier League games for next season. Traditionally this has been the most popular and best-performing slot for us of all of our sporting rights.”

The Premier League games are expected to be spread across Setanta Sports Ireland and Setanta Sports 1.

A new pricing structure for the two channels is expected to be launched soon. They will be available by subscription through cable provider UPC and on Sky’s digital satellite platform.

Sky is believed to have been the underbidder in the process. As the matches are not allowed to be broadcast in Britain, it is understood that Sky was prepared to show the games in Ireland on a separate channel, which would have marked a first for the company here.

Sky holds the rights to show 92 Premier League games in Ireland next season, while Disney-owned ESPN recently acquired the rights to 46 games that were previously held by Setanta. These matches will also be shown in the UK.

The rights to show live Premier League football in Ireland for three seasons from August 2010 are expected to be auctioned off in September.

Sky and ESPN have already won the UK rights and are expected to pitch for the mirror rights here. The 33 Saturday afternoon games will also be up for grabs.

Setanta hit the headlines in recent weeks when it failed to make payments to both the Premier League in England and the Scottish Premier League due to financial difficulties.

This led to the collapse of its UK business and about €500 million in shareholder equity being wiped out.