ESPN and BSkyB are set to launch a joint bid to screen the Scottish Premier League (SPL) from next season, with an announcement expected as early as today. The broadcasting giants are understood to be close to tabling an offer for the rights that the football authority clawed back from Setanta Sports shortly before the Irish group collapsed last month.
The joint bid will be a disappointment to the SPL as it was hoping to spark an auction between the two likeliest bidders for the rights package, with insiders saying it was unlikely to receive the same fee paid by Setanta.
Setanta had one year to run on its current SPL contract for which it was to pay £14m, and had agreed a £125m four-year deal last year. One source close to the situation said the new offer could be up to £40m lower.
The bid will provide some relief for the SPL, however, which had feared for the future of some of the smaller clubs in its division after Setanta's broadcasting money dried up.
A spokesman for ESPN did not comment on the joint bid, but said: "As we continue to say, we are interested in rights where they are available and where they make business sense. But as we've not confirmed whether we have or have not bid clearly, we have no comment on this new speculation." Sky also declined to comment.
This would cap a remarkable entrance into the UK market for ESPN. The American sports channel, which is owned by Disney, operates two niche channels in the UK. Yet it has never screened Premier League football – the jewel in the crown of sports rights – from either England or Scotland.
The broadcaster is set to unveil more information about its service for next year's football season, including the branding and full pricing plans in the next week.
Setanta called in administrators Deloitte last Wednesday, owing £300m, and the UK channels shut down that night. This came a day after the SPL's executive chairman Lex Gold announced that the body had reclaimed its rights after Setanta failed to meet a routine £3m payment.