Is Setanta Sports Finished?

07 June 2009

It's a simple question, yet the question does not have a simple answer.

For anyone who has lived under a rock for the past three months, let me sum this story up for you. First, Irish based network Setanta Sports lost one half of its Barclays Premier League TV contract. We quickly saw everyone question if Setanta Sports was going to be a viable network going forward with only one package of games to offer. Yes, they also had the FA Cup, England internationals, the SPL, and had won rights to English rugby. Along with their other football rights, their team specific channels, and their golf exclusive network, Setanta Sports seemed to have alot going for it... or did they?

Secondly, Setanta cut it way too close to making payments. In the case Setanta Sports FA Cup and SPL coverage, they didn't cut it close as they flat out missed the payments. Another problem for Setanta is the payment to the Premier League is due on the fifteenth and they don't look like they will be able to make payment on it. To add icing on the cake, based on reports from the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, administrators are on standby and could be brought in by weeks end.

Make no bones about it, Setanta Sports are in serious trouble. Between missing their goals on subscribers, unstable ownership at the top, and investors getting cold feet in a down economy, Setanta Sports is in a fight just to stay in business. Three things look to have led to their downfall in my mind. First being over bidding for the FA Cup, England Internationals and Rugby rights, second being having too many channels (eleven) and not enough money/viewers to go around, and finally losing half of their Premier League rights gave people in a down economy a reason to go ahead and drop the channel. All of that came together to put Setanta in the position they are in now.

My guess is Setanta is in administration on Thursday morning, right after screening the highlights of England v Andorra. With administration, the fire sale of rights will begin. the BBC can get the FA Cup back at the price they probably bid 2 years ago. ITV has already made a backdoor deal on the England internationals. The only other rights that would be of an issue are the Premier League. This would be the perfect time for ESPN to walk in and pick up the rights.

The only question I have is how does this affect Setanta Sports in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland and in Africa? My speculation is these channels are also in trouble, but not to the degree Setanta UK is. My hunch is Setanta has set up different companies in each country, but I seriously do not know. Leagues will have seen these developments in the UK and will probably play hard ball with Setanta Sports with regards to TV rights, wanting money up front.

What does this do to the Premier League rights in the United States? It throws ESPN and GolTV into play when rights are announced. There have been some talks inside inner circles that had Setanta Sports not picked up the rights to the CONMEBOL qualifiers in the US, Setanta could have been out of business already in the US. All I know is this is a story that needs to be followed closely because it's ramifications to the US market are simply too big to not care about. Will we see games on PPV, it's possible. However less EPL games will leave us more opportunity to watch other leagues like the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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