ESPN PULL OUT ON CONFERENCE TV DEAL
ESPN pulls out of talks to show Blue Square Premier matches
• Blue Square Premier look into streaming games on internet
• Clubs likely to miss out on £80,000 a year in revenue
Tuesday 15 September 2009 19.38 BST
ESPN said the return in viewing figures and ad revenue from the Blue Square Premier was not worth the outlay.
Clubs in the Blue Square Premier are facing a financial squeeze after negotiations with ESPN over Setanta's defunct contract with the league broke down.
The Blue Square Premier clubs were two years into a ground-breaking five‑year deal and banked around £80,000 annually from the Setanta deal, which became void when the Irish pay-TV broadcaster went bust this year after overpaying for key contracts and falling victim to the wider economic slump.
ESPN, the sports broadcasting company owned by Disney which launched a stand-alone UK channel after picking up the 46 live Premier League matches previously held by Setanta, examined all the rights held by its collapsed predecessor.
Setanta earned widespread praise for its innovative and high-quality coverage of more than 50 live Blue Square matches a season, but many industry insiders believed it did not make economic sense. In the first year of the deal it showed more than 70 matches but problems with scheduling games at short notice led to cutbacks. It is believed that including rights and production costs, the league would have cost ESPN upwards of £2m a year to cover. The broadcaster has calculated that the return in terms of viewing figures, advertising revenues and subscribers would not be worth the outlay. Once it picked up rights to some live Europa League games, ESPN also filled a gap in its schedules on a Thursday, the slot in which Setanta used to show Conference football. "ESPN has a lot of top-quality football," said a spokesman. "We met Blue Square Premier but decided that it did not make business sense for us to show the league on the channel at this time."
Oxford United's chairman, Kelvin Thomas, said the news would come as a blow to clubs, most of whom had budgeted for the TV money due to the fact Setanta did not go under until the close season.
"The exposure is important to the league and the Setanta deal demonstrated that," he said. "The exposure is good for sponsors, for the profile of the league and for the clubs. But most clubs had probably accepted they weren't going to get any TV money." The league and clubs are expected to explore other avenues, including the possibility of screening games on the internet.
ESPN is still in negotiations with the Football Association to buy the FA Cup live rights that were freed up when Setanta went under. But, with ITV having subsequently written down the value of its £275m share of the £450m deal by £50m, the BBC having allocated most of its sports rights budget and Sky relatively uninterested, the two sides are believed to be some distance apart.
Conference fails to close TV deal
The Football Conference has confirmed talks over a potential deal with ESPN to televise Blue Square Premier matches have broken down.
The Conference has been seeking another broadcaster after the demise of Irish company Setanta in June 2009.
"We are disappointed we haven't been able to conclude a deal but we continue our search," said Conference general manager Dennis Strudwick.
Blue Square Premier clubs had budgeted to receive around £80,000 from Setanta.
Oxford United chairman Kelvin Thomas says he is disappointed but not surprised a deal could not be reached in the current financial climate.
He told BBC Oxford: "I think it is a very difficult deal to agree, I don't think it was an easy deal to get over the line.
"That being said our game against Luton shows what this league can offer at times and hopefully there will be some other companies in the wings."
Blow to Stags finances as ESPN pulls out of Blue Square TV talks
CHAD.co.uk, 16 September 2009, By Stephen Thirkill
STAGS chairman Andy Perry has spoken of his disappointment after broadcaster ESPN pulled the plug on any potential deal to show live Blue Square Premier games.
The American broadcasters had been in discussions with Blue Square league bosses but decided against buying the television rights for economic reasons.
ESPN have bought the rights to many top class sporting events in recent months as they attempt to rival Sky Sports in the British sports television market.
A spokesperson for ESPN said: "ESPN has a lot of top-quality football.
"We met Blue Square Premier but decided that it did not make business sense for us to show the league on the channel at this time."
The move is the latest blow to Blue Square Premier clubs, with many facing a budget shortfall following the collapse of previous rights holder Setanta shortly before the start of the new season.
Under its previous five-year deal with the sports broadcaster, clubs in the top division of the Football Conference were guarenteed £80,000 each season.
Stags chairman Andy Perry said: "We are not being kept in touch by the league about what is happening with the tv deal and only hear things through the newspapers, which is disappointing.
"It is disappointing that the talks have broken down. The day before the season we were told we would soon have an answer about what was happening, but we are still waiting for a decision and are still very much in the dark about what is going on."
Mansfield Town are now looking at other ways of getting their matches seen by the fans and could broadcast highlights packages on the club's official website if they are given permission.
Added Perry: "We will write to the Blue Square Premier for a clarification of the situation and to see if broadcasting highlights on our website is something we can do.
"We already record our matches and this could be an avenue to explore on a pay-per-view basis.
"We are looking at all ways we can overcome the budget shortfall faced by the Setanta collapse.
"The lack of television revenues is still an issue for Mansfield Town and makes it that little bit harder to take the club forward.
"While we are still doing well in the league and getting crowds pushing on towards 4,000 we are managing."
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