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May 5, 2006 7:49 pm

Setanta wins Premiership rights

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The Irish love their sport, so there will be big celebrations at news on Friday that Setanta had won the right to air English Premiership football.

It ends a 14-year monopoly by Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB. The coup for the small Irish broadcaster will be particularly sweet for Trevor East, a former Sky Sports deputy managing director, who was centrally involved in the bid.

The victory gives Setanta the right to air 46 live games a season in the UK between 2007 and 2010.

The European Commission had ruled that the Premier League would have to divide the rights to the matches into six bundles of 23 matches, stipulating that no one company would be able to own all six.

To those in the industry, Setanta’s award is nothing more than the Irish pay channel deserves.

But it marks the most significant breakthrough since it was founded back in 1990 by Michael O’Rourke and Leonard Ryan, two Irish businessmen reportedly so peeved at not being able to see the Ireland v Holland World Cup clash of that year via their existing channels that they decided to set up their own operation.

It proved a shrewd move. Two years ago the company had its first big break with a deal to air Scottish Premiership football. Last month, it won the rights to extend that deal for a further two years – welcome news for the Scottish Premier League, which had just lost the sponsorship deal with the Bank of Scotland.

It was an obvious move given the close identification between Irish audiences and the SPL, where Glasgow Celtic is often treated almost as if it were an Irish team.

That proved Setanta’s operational capabilities. But they have not been content to rest on that alone.

The station now has a variety of interests in the US. A year ago it set up a digital broadcasting operation called DirecTV, to serve consumers in the US, where football is starting to attract a serious following.

It then expanded its offering via a link with GlobeCast WorldTV, a US-based broadcaster, which allowed it to transmit the Lions tour of New Zealand and tri-nations rugby to a hungry audience of both Americans and expatriate European rugby fans in the US.

In March this year it secured the rights to air the World Cup in the US for the country’s secondary language World Cup rights, tapping into the vast potential subscriber base of German, Italian, Polish and French speakers living in the US.

Airing English Premiership matches puts it firmly on the map. Compared with Sky’s massive financial resources, Setanta has relied largely on private equity money for support.

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